Austin, Texas, May 11, 2017 / 12:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic groups have welcomed the Texas House of Representatives’ passage Wednesday of a bill that would provide conscience protections for groups and individuals involved in the foster care system.
“When this becomes law, Catholic Charities will be able to bring our expertise and resources to the aid of some of our most desperate and needy children,” said Sara Ramirez, CEO for Catholic Charities of Central Texas. “We are willing to return to the field and work side-by-side with all people of good will so that no child is further traumatized by an inadequate foster care system,” she said in a statement from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.
The 93-49 vote on May 10, largely along party lines, sends the bill to the Senate, where a similar version has been stalled in committee, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The bill would allow organizations and individuals in Texas’ foster care system who have sincerely held religious beliefs to remove themselves from actions that would directly violate their faith. Its multiple applications would allow groups to avoid helping a minor obtain an abortion or providing foster services, including child placement, to same-sex couples.
Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference, supported the bill. “We look forward to a swift approval by the Senate and the Governor’s signature, as this is a critical element of the foster care system reform,” she said. Cynthia Colbert, CEO of Catholic Charities Houston, said the conscience protections will “enable pastors to encourage loving families to be part of a caring network for these children” and will allow faith-based providers to be involved with Texas family protection service “without worrying that potential lawsuits will take limited resources away from the people we should be helping.”
Bill sponsor State Rep. James Frank, a Republican from Wichita Falls, said the bill aimed “to give quick, clear certainty to providers so they can take care of children instead of fighting lawsuits.” “We need everyone to the table to help with the foster care situation,” he said.
Bill opponents have characterized it as a license to discriminate that would favor Christian beliefs over others. They objected that it would allow foster parents the right to deny contraceptives and abortion or medical care like vaccines to their children if these are against their religious beliefs. Rep. Mary Gonzalez objected to the bill, saying tax dollars “should never be used to discriminate against any Texan.”
In other states and the District of Columbia, long-serving Catholic adoption agencies have been shut down by laws against sexual orientation discrimination or new requirements in state funding that would have required them to place children with same-sex couples.