Despite opposition from gay-rights groups, Lone Star lawmakers passed the Freedom to Serve Children Act.
By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle
ABILENE, Texas — At age 17, Jennifer Griffith discovered she was pregnant.
The daughter of a pro-life advocate, Griffith knew she couldn’t abort her baby. Instead, the unmarried teen turned to Christian Homes and Family Services for help.
The 55-year-old ministry — based in this West Texas city where the wind blows hot all day and the sunset explodes with colors each evening — worked with her to find a faithful couple to adopt her baby.
“I wanted my child to have two parents who were married and who were going to raise their child in the Christian faith,” said Griffith, who grew up in the West Freeway Church of Christ in Fort Worth.
A new Lone Star State law — set to take effect Sept. 1 — protects the freedom of faith-based organizations such as Christian Homes and Family Services to adhere to their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Under House Bill 3859 — passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott — state-licensed nonprofits can require, for example, that prospective parents be active church members who attend worship services weekly.
Moreover, taxpayer-funded charities can decline to place children with same-sex couples. However, in such cases, the ministries must refer the couples to more suitable providers.
The law also will permit agencies to place children in religious schools, decline to refer teens for abortions and refuse to enter into contracts with organizations that don’t share their beliefs.
Religious groups make up roughly a quarter of Texas’ 210 state-licensed child-welfare providers. Texas is home to more than 250,000 members of Churches of Christ — the most of any state.
“We had to create an environment in which the state’s work can coexist with the work of faith-based organizations, and I thought this bill really succeeded in doing that,” said Sherri Statler, president and CEO of Christian Homes and Family Services, which is associated with Churches of Christ.
But House Bill 3859 drew fierce opposition from gay-rights advocates and progressive religious groups. In response to the law, California banned state-sponsored travel to Texas, accusing it of authorizing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
This story appears in the August 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.