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Statement on Passage to Engrossment of HB 3859 from Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas
Posted on May 9, 2017 at 11:10 pm

“Children are dying in foster care. Thousands need a safe and healthy home. LGBTQ parents can provide a loving, safe and healthy home for children in need. The passage to engrossment of HB 3859 is another step toward allowing organizations to discriminate using taxpayer money.  Taxpayer dollars should never be used to discriminate against any Texan. Allowing someone to force their personal religious beliefs on others is not a true religious accommodation. HB 3859 goes too far and beyond reasonable accommodation and confers an unprecedented right of religious refusal to a broad class of providers that includes both agencies and foster parents. The state of Texas is now one step closer to having the broadest, most discriminatory child welfare religious refusal act in the United States. HB 3859 is not only discriminatory to qualified prospective foster and adoptive parents, it puts thousands of youth in care in jeopardy.

The refusal rights granted by HB 3859 are not adequately balanced with the state’s compelling interest to ensure the rights and wellbeing of children in the state’s care. HB 3859 does not specifically establish a requirement that the best interests of children supersede the personal religious beliefs of the provider seeking a refusal.

In the end, this was not about religious freedom. When children are removed from their families because of neglect or abuse, the State has an obligation to place them in homes based on the children’s needs and the prospective family’s ability to meet those needs, not on the religious beliefs of the agency hired by the State to find them homes. These children have the right to have their placement decisions, and the delivery of services to them while in state care, made based on child welfare criteria, not religious criteria. All of the children in Texas deserve better than the consequences HB 3859 will bring to the state. Today, Texas lawmakers took our state in the wrong direction.”

Examples of this unconstitutional policy and the imbalances include:

  • An agency could refuse to care for children who do not share its faith or turn away prospective adoptive or foster parents who practice a different religion;
  • A foster home could impose a religion on children in its care, regardless whether the children share that faith;
  • A counselor could refuse to provide family reunification services to a parent who does not go to church or was divorced;
  • An employee of any private agency could place a child with strangers instead of a close relative because the relative is gay or transgender;
  • A foster family could actively obstruct a teenager who has been the victim of sexual assault from accessing emergency contraception.

Despite assurances that children and families turned away by a provider for religious reasons will have access to other providers, there is nothing in HB 3859 to ensure such access.

Nothing in HB 3859 requires child welfare providers who refuse services to inform the state of the refusal. 100% of the burden to inform the state is placed on the child in state care. Nothing in HB 3859 requires that alternate providers actually be available before a provider is allowed to refuse services.