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Legislature

The Texas State House just passed a new bill protecting the rights of adoption agencies to deny applicants on religious criteria.

It’s a controversial landmark new bill in the Texas State Legislature and it’s an important one for the adoption industry. A new law in Texas protects the rights of Christian adoption agencies to deny parental applicants that are gay, unmarried, or even non-Christian. The ruling holds up even if the agency receives government funding.

Adoption agencies have had these sorts of subjective guidelines all along, but given the current political climate, many adoption agencies are “terrified” of lawsuits. Authored by state Representative James Frank, the “Freedom to Serve Children Act,” states that adoption agencies and foster agencies are legally allowed to deny services to applicants on grounds of the “the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”

What this bill means, is that such an agency could discriminate against, Jews, Muslims, gays, singles, or any other designation should they desire. The big caveat here is that these organizations also accept state money. So, many think that this would amount to taxpayer-funded discrimination.

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Texas State Representative James Frank authored the bill to protect the religious freedom of agencies in the state.

But, others think that these organizations would exit the public system if they are not allowed to do so. The overburdened state needs them to stay. If they were faced with a lawsuit, it would amount to a mass exodus of faith-based adoption agencies from the public system.

“We want to make reasonable accommodations so everyone can participate in the system,” said state Rep. James Frank of Wichita Falls. “Everyone is welcome. But you don’t have to think alike to participate.”

Besides, they insist, there is a free market to the adoption industry. If a couple can’t find one that works for them, they are free to look for others. Besides, where the welfare of children is concerned, it’s a very personal choice.

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“My guess is if you have an LGBT agency they’re going to pick an LGBT family, and if you have a Baptist agency they may be more likely to pick a Baptist family,” Frank said. “They’re free to do that and should be free to do that.”

If an agency’s religious beliefs dictate that it is not in the best interest of a child to be raised by a gay couple, then by their own definition, they are putting children into harm’s way. That inhibits their expression of religion.

Buckner

Buckner International donated sneakers in Mexico City. Helping the poor and orphans is a hallmark of the Christian faith. It should be to their virtue that critics complain they have the adoption market cornered.

“We want to make sure we can practice within the framework of our sincerely held religious beliefs,” said Randy Daniels, Vice President of Family Services for Buckner International, a Christian child welfare agency.

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Agencies have always had rules defining what constitutes a stable home. For example, Buckner’s rules state that they will only work with a heterosexual couple that has been married at least four years.

“These are our requirements, and we’re clear, this is just who we are,” said Daniels. “We want to make sure that groups like Buckner continue to have a place at the table because we bring solutions.”

Not to mention, birth mothers often give up their children not because they didn’t love them but because they do love them and know they cannot give them the life they deserve—particularly in the case of a birth mother that chooses a private or religious agency. A birth mother, who may or may be a practicing Christian, per se, may choose an agency based on its religious affiliation, believing they are doing the best for their child.

Trust is the product that the agency sells to that mother. For that agency to not be able to guarantee that the child will be placed in a suitable home, as defined by their stated religious credo—would be undermining the product they sell.

But, critics argue that it is discrimination, and to some degree it is. “This would allow adoption agencies to turn away qualified, loving parents who are perhaps perfect in every way because the agency has a difference in religious belief,” said Catherine Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. “This goes against the best interest of the child.”

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But, it also protects the rights of a religious organization to remain religious. Even the free-market capitalism argument, however, doesn’t satisfy critics, who complain there aren’t enough alternatives.

“Say you call an agency and say, ‘I’m Jewish,’ and it’s a Catholic agency and they hang up on you,” said Suzanne Bryant, an LGBT adoption attorney. “The bill says you can be referred to another agency, but there’s no mechanism to set that up.”

Well, here’s the thing about that. It’s not very trendy to recognize that Christianity has some good to it, but here is where it shows up. The Christian Bible explicitly tells Christians to care for the poor and orphans. It is something they have learned to do well.  That’s why in the 1860’s, it was Christians who founded the Salvation Army. That’s why the Catholic Church is famous for running orphanages, from Mother Theresa on down.

That’s why during the Industrial Revolution, when conditions were leaving the streets full of homeless children, it was Christian missionaries who founded orphanages on nothing but two dimes and a whole lot of scrubbing. Granted, some of these orphanages were run with a harder hand than perhaps necessary, but life was more difficult in those times too.

Regardless, the Christian community has had a lot of experience and ideological framework in the area of caring for unwanted children. It’s not their fault that they have the market cornered. Taking away their rights to care for children as they deem necessary would undermine the basics of their faith.

The Texas bill passed the House 94-51 last week, and will now go to the Senate, where it is expected to pass as well.