The Texas House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday night that allows adoption centers to decline to provide services to prospective parents based on religious reasons. The “Freedom to Serve Children Act” passed the Republican controlled House with 94 votes for it and 51 against clearing the way for the state Senate to consider the bill. Under the measure, adoption agencies may openly discriminate against people who they believe are unsuitable for religious reasons. By citing religious reasons for refusing to consider the person as a prospective parent, the agency is protected from legal retribution.
Sponsors of the bill believe that the threat of discrimination lawsuits negatively affects the ability of adoption agencies, particularly faith-based ones, to remain in operation. Many agencies in Texas are faith-based and receive state funding to help find homes for foster children. Texas is not the first state to enact legislation that allows for faith based discrimination when matching children with adoptive or foster parents. South Dakota passed a similar law in March. Statistics about the effects of the law on child placements have not been reported yet.
Critics of the bill claim that Texas adoption and foster agencies were already hostile towards non-Christians, LGBTQ, and single persons. Megan Lestino, vice president of public policy for the National Adoption Council, explains that faith based agencies have the legal right to use their religious beliefs to screen prospective parents so long as non-discriminatory avenues for adoption exist. Faith based agencies exist in solidly Republican states almost to the exclusion of secular ones severely restricting people’s options.
The measure’s opponents express concern at how it will affect the prospects of children in foster care. In 2015, over four hundred thousand children were in the foster care system nationwide according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Those numbers have steadily increased annually for the past five years. Opponents fear that arbitrarily using religious beliefs to limit the potential pool of parents will leave many foster children without home placements.