If a new bill becomes law, adoption agencies in Texas could be allowed to block people who are gay, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, atheist, or any number of other affiliations from adopting. That's because the legislation in question, which state Republicans introduced and are expected to begin debating next week, permits state-run and private adoption agencies to refuse service to couples if doing so would conflict with the "sincerely held religious beliefs" of those who run the agency.
HB 3859, which Republicans called the "Freedom to Serve Children Act," states that the government may not "take any adverse action against a child welfare services provider" who has "declined or will decline to provide, facilitate, or refer a person for child welfare services that conflict with, or under circumstances that conflict with, the provider's sincerely held religious beliefs."
Opponents say that this vague language would open the door for widespread discrimination against almost anyone, including interfaith couples, provided that doing so could be justified as a "sincerely held religious belief." Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU Texas, told CNN:
She added that it's "about as limiting a bill as we have seen."
Texas adoption agencies could ban Jews, gays, Muslims. https://t.co/Vx73uwIbdz— The Associated Press (@AP) May 6, 2017
Texas Rep. James Frank, who wrote the bill, said in a statement that the legislation "protects the rights of the faith-based organizations to exercise their religious mission to serve others without fear of retaliation." According to CNN, faith-based organizations make up around 25 percent of child welfare providers in the state.
Frank also noted that the bill "specifically requires the state to ensure that alternate providers are available to offer any services that a faith-based provider declines to provide due to religious conflicts." However, an Austin-based adoption attorney who works with LGBT clients says that this measure doesn't actually establish a process by which this can happen.
"Say you call an agency and say, 'I'm Jewish,' and it's a Catholic agency and they hang up on you," Suzanne Bryant, an adoption attorney, told CBS News. "The bill says you can be referred to another agency, but there's no mechanism to set that up."
The bill is just one of 17 pieces of GOP-sponsored legislation in Texas that the ACLU says would stifle civil liberties, including one bill that would allow state clerks to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.