KCBD INVESTIGATES: Controversial adoption bill labeled 'discrimi - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

KCBD INVESTIGATES: Controversial adoption bill labeled 'discriminatory' headed for vote in Texas Senate

District 69 Representative James Frank of Wichita Falls (Source: Facebook) District 69 Representative James Frank of Wichita Falls (Source: Facebook)
Lynn Harms, past president of the Children's Home of Lubbock (Source: KCBD Video) Lynn Harms, past president of the Children's Home of Lubbock (Source: KCBD Video)
CEO of Equality Texas Chuck Smith (Source: KCBD Video) CEO of Equality Texas Chuck Smith (Source: KCBD Video)

A controversial adoption bill labeled "discriminatory" by opposition groups will soon be voted on by the Texas Senate, but the author of HB 3859, District 69 Representative James Frank of Wichita Falls, argues that a lot of people are missing the point.

If passed, the bill would protect child welfare service providers who contract with the state from adverse action if they decline to place a child with someone who conflicts with their sincerely-held religious beliefs.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press published an article titled, "Texas adoption agencies could ban Jews, gays, Muslims."

Frank took to Facebook the next day writing, "On Saturday, an Associated Press article appeared with an inflammatory headline and factually incorrect statements."

The bill has now made headlines nationwide.

"The initial article saying it is a ban could not be further from the truth," Rep. Frank told KCBD.

Frank wrote the attorney general's office about the article.

Deputy First Assistant Attorney General Brantley Starr responded to Rep. Frank writing, "You ask whether this headline indicating there could be a 'ban' is correct. We believe it to be a serious misstatement of what HB 3859 actually would do."

Starr wrote that the bill complies with the Establishment Clause because it does not prefer one religion over another and does not prefer religion over non-religion.

However, CEO of Equality Texas Chuck Smith, said, "It is just one more step in the State of Texas continuing its assault on the constitutional rights of LGBT Texans and others in this state."

Equality Texas has created a place on its website dedicated to stopping HB 3859.

They are asking those opposed to the bill to rush a message to their state senator urging them to stop the bill. 

The website states, "HB 3859 would allow the religious beliefs of child welfare providers to be placed above the needs of our most vulnerable children. This would jeopardize the health and well-being of children and youth in state care."

"This legislature is spending the whole session trying to chip away and put roadblocks in front of LGBT people and their ability to have equal treatment in the State of Texas," Smith said.

However, Frank argues this bill would give everyone a seat at the table.

"We have a long history in this country of making reasonable accommodations for people of differing beliefs," Rep. Frank said. "I don't believe it will keep other folks out, and I don't want it to keep other folks out; I want everyone to participate." 

Senator Charles Perry, who is carrying the bill in the senate said, "It is strictly to give my faith based operators a defense mechanism and an opportunity to practice in this area without fear of persecution."

According to the attorney general's office, at least one Texas-based operation and foster care provider has already been implicated in a lawsuit.

Starr confirmed in his letter, the ACLU of Northern California challenged the award of a federal grant to the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on the basis that the provider declines to provide certain family planning practices such as abortions to its clients. 

Starr wrote that this bill allows faith-based groups to continue to operate without fear of lawsuits or reprisal by state bureaucrats.

"The significant number of child welfare service providers that are faith-based in Texas are experiencing an elevated degree of risk," Starr wrote.

Jennifer Allmon, the Executive Director at the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, said Catholic Charities have closed adoption and foster care programs in Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Washington D.C.

"In Texas, many of our catholic agencies have suspended their foster care and adoption services pending the outcome of this bill. With the passage of the bill, they would be able to engage again," Allmon said.

Catholic Charities is not alone, Buckner International determined it would not expand operations without the passage of such legislation. 

"This bill is aimed at allowing faith-based agencies to continue doing a critical work placing CPS children in foster and adoptive families without having to capitulate on our closely-held beliefs," said Lynn Harms, past president of the Children's Home of Lubbock. 

Harms fears if HB 3859 does not pass, many faith-based agencies like the Children's Home of Lubbock will be forced to either sacrifice their religious beliefs or stop providing services. 

"I am all for and supportive of making accommodation of religious belief, that is an absolutely laudable goal, but I don't want an accommodation to be made unless it is balanced against the best interest of the child," Smith said.

Smith said Equality Texas would not have any problem with these issues if we were talking about private entities. 

"What we are talking about is allowing providers to be state contractors, to be paid by the state when they are supposed to serve all the children of the state. We are allowing them to pick and choose who they will and won't work with and that is discrimination," Smith said.

Starr's letter references a chronicle of the Department of Family and Protective Services titled, "A New Partnership for Children: Faith Based Communities and Texas Child Protective Services." 

According to that chronicle, which can be read here, Child Protective Services and the faith-based community in Texas reinvigorated their collaboration in 2011.

"Many faith-based communities have long held a general fear and distrust of government, and they needed to understand the regulations and requirements that CPS operates under. It is just as important for CPS to understand the faith-based community's mission and how that mission translates into valuable services and support for children, youth, and families."

The chronicle includes a quote from Gail Gonzalez, a retired Director of Placement, Foster & Adoptive Development and Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children, Texas DPS.

Gonzalez said, "The faith community drives this - we support them to do what they want to do. It involves the power of the community and the power of the heart. It is a major shift!" 

"We don't kick people out of the public arena because they believe different than we do," Franks said. "This is focused on bringing more people to help children in Texas and that answer of kicking people out because they don't believe like somebody else believes, that answer is not focused on the child."

"If you go down this road where adverse action can occur and there is no protection, and it has happened in other states where these communities feel like they are going to be sued, they will just get out of the business," Perry said.

The House did pass an amendment that requires agencies to provide a referral if they decline to place with someone.

"It's a very weak amendment that refers a person to the CPS website," Smith said. 

The amendment requires the provider to direct the person to the web page on the department's website that includes a list of other licensed child welfare service providers, or other sources that can identify other licensed child welfare services.

This amendment would also give the provider the option of connecting the person directly with another agency, to the department or to a contractor who can help identify and locate another provider. 

"People, even state employees, are entitled to reasonable accommodation for their religious beliefs under federal and state law. In other words, even state employees do not have to check their religious beliefs at the door to the government building," Starr wrote.

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