Friday, June 16, 2017

Texas Governor Signs HB 3859 Bill, Allowing Religious Groups to Discriminate Against Foster Kids

What Is HB 3859?

The text of HB 3859 reads as a bill to protect the religious rights of faith-based organizations and providers; however, many critics believe the bill will be used to discriminate against LGBT individuals, interfaith couples, single parents, and those who are non-Christians.

Sec. 45.005 of the bill specifically contains wording which troubles civil rights advocates:

Sec.A45.005. SECONDARY SERVICE PROVIDERS. (a) A child welfare services provider may not be required to provide any services that conflict with the provider 's sincerely held religious beliefs.

In Sec. 45.009 the bill attempts to clarify its position on religious freedom:

Sec.A45.009. EFFECT ON RIGHTS; CONSTRUCTION OF LAW. (a) This chapter may not be construed to authorize a governmental entity to burden a person 's free exercise of religion.

Governor Greg Abbott is not new to legislation civil rights advocates label discriminatory. Earlier this year, Abbott came out in support of the controversial Texas 'bathroom bill' stating:

"As the debate on this issue continues, I will work with the House and Senate to ensure we find a solution and ultimately get a bill to my desk that I will sign into law."

Child Welfare Organizations Speak Out

The Child Welfare League of America, Donaldson Adoption Institute, and North American Council on Adoptable Children and Voice for Adoption released a joint statement on HB 3859 this past May. An except from the press release follows:

The Texas Senate will soon consider legislation that would significantly limit the opportunities for the more than 12,000 Texas children waiting in foster care to join permanent, adoptive homes. This bill – HB 3589—would sanction discrimination against LGBTQ children in care and prospective adoptive or foster parents. Under the guise of religious freedom, this bill would allow a foster or adoption agency to deny a placement based on that agency's moral or religious beliefs, even if the agency receives public funds. Further, agencies would face no consequence if they forced LGBTQ children to engage in religious based counseling, or even subjected them to the discredited practice of "conversion therapy."


Ramifications Of HB 3859

Current data shows the amount of children in foster care is disproportional to the ethnic breakdown of the general population.  The Child Welfare Information Gateway further expounds on the disparity issue, "A significant amount of research has documented the over representation of certain racial and ethnic populations—including African-Americans and Native Americans —in the child welfare system when compared with their representation in the general population."

The Human Rights Campaign also explains why the LGBTQ youth population is over represented in foster care,  "…The research that is available, however, has consistently shown that LGBTQ youth are over-represented among the foster care population. Many LGBTQ youth enter foster care after experiencing family rejection because of their gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation."

Legislation constructed in the format of HB 3859 could lead to it being more difficult for children in the most vulnerable situations to find caring and loving homes.

Related: Sarah From Foster Your Heart Out Speaks On The Importance of Foster Care

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

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