At the core of Christianity is a mandate to serve the most vulnerable people, regardless of their creed, nationality, ethnicity, age or any other qualification. We serve people not because they are Christian, but because we are Christian. As Cardinal James Hickey said, “If we don't care for the sick, educate the young, care for the homeless, then we cannot call ourselves the church of Jesus Christ.”
We don’t “hang up” when someone calls us for help. The church is often the first to respond to a crisis, and often remains with people long after others have forgotten them, working side-by-side with “the least” of our sisters and brothers. We do this because of our beliefs. Increasingly, however, faith-based organizations are being excluded from government-run programs because some of our beliefs are no longer considered “mainstream.”
Opponents of our church’s teachings on abortion and marriage are trying to exclude Catholic Charities, Buckner Children & Family Services and other faith-based providers from serving children in Texas’ foster care system. Their blind adherence to a particular ideology is hampering efforts by the Texas Legislature to reform a system which has failed some of the most vulnerable and needy Texans — more than 30,000 children who need loving, stable adults to care for them.
Faith-based providers don’t want to spend their money on lawyers and court cases. It’s not good stewardship of resources. Just the threat of lawsuits has caused too many qualified, competent and caring individuals and organizations, including ours, to step away from this important work.
House Bill 3859, authored by state Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, provides conscience protection for faith-based providers who cannot abandon the tenets of the very faith that compels them to assist children in Texas’ foster care system.
Only one of every four providers in Texas is a faith-based organization. Providing conscience protection for families will enable pastors to encourage loving families to be part of a caring network for these children. It will also allow faith-based providers to re-engage with the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) without worrying that potential lawsuits will take limited resources away from the people we should be helping.
The placement of children will be done with the best interest of the child and the DFPS’ Foster Care Children’s Bill of Rights in place. State agencies will make final decisions about placements. Providing religious freedom ensures that our diverse network of churches will remain engaged in recruiting, screening and verifying foster families.
The bill requires DFPS to provide alternative providers in every region. It also requires any agency which cannot serve a family or a child because of sincerely held religious beliefs to refer them back to DFPS. No one will be denied the ability to serve these children, as long as they are properly vetted by the state
It does not require state entities or secular organizations that may have different beliefs on family, marriage and faith to change their values. Today, three-fourths of all providers in Texas are not faith-based. It does not ban anyone from being part of the solution.
By allowing those who are motivated to serve because of their religious convictions, the bills will be expanding the number of competent providers and loving, stable families who can help the children of Texas.
Every child deserves a loving home. We need everyone around the table, so that we have a diverse network to place all our children in quality, loving foster homes. HB 3859 can help us build that network.