By David Wilfong
NDG Special Contributor
It has been one busy week for civil rights advocates in Texas. The week began with protesting Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s signing of SB 4, which was aimed at ending “sanctuary cities” in Texas. By mid-week it was HB 3895 taking center stage, and causing a further uproar over the matter of allowing private child welfare organizations to discriminate based on religious convictions.
On Tuesday the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a “Travel Advisory” for Texas over the SB 4 legislation on immigration policy, warning potential visitors that entering the state could put their civil rights in jeopardy. The advisory was published in unison by numerous ACLU affiliates across the country.
“We plan to fight this racist and wrongheaded law in the courts and in the streets,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “Until we defeat it, everyone traveling in or to Texas needs to be aware of what’s in store for them. The Lone Star State will become a ‘show me your papers’ state, where every interaction with law enforcement can become a citizenship interrogation and potentially an illegal arrest.”
On Wednesday, the Texas House of Representatives voted to advance House Bill 3859 (HB3859), a bill that would allow child welfare caseworkers and state-funded child adoption and foster agencies the right to refuse to provide, facilitate or refer a person for services that violate the personal religious beliefs of the provider. The ACLU and other groups have called this an attack on the LGBT community.
“Discrimination in the name of religion has no place in our laws or in our state, and it certainly should not be used to harm children,” said Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas. “There are currently 22,000 children awaiting placement in Texas and last year alone, 252 children died of abuse and neglect in our broken CPS system. It is shocking that the Texas House would respond to this crisis by prioritizing the personal religious beliefs of providers over the best interests of the children in the state’s care.”
Texas State Representative James Frank (R-Wichita Falls) introduced the bill, and says his legislation doesn’t “discriminate” against anyone, but removes barriers to participation for groups who would otherwise be a valuable resource for foster children.
“The placements, where a child goes, is not covered,” Frank said to the House Committee on State Affairs during hearings on March 29. “This gives us the ability to get as many homes as possible out there. There’s already folks out in the LGBT community, they’re doing a great job. We need as many of those homes, and we need religious homes. So that when CPS makes that hard decision of ‘Where do I place this child?’ there are as many options as possible. I believe this bill serves that purpose. And it absolutely does not in any way keep anyone from placing with an LGBT couple.”
The Texas Senate received the HB 3859 legislation from the House on Thursday and referred to the Health and Human Services committee.