The Republican-dominated Texas House of Representatives is set to consider this week a measure affecting adoption and other child welfare services that its sponsor says would protect faith-based groups, but critics say could allow for discrimination based on religion or sexual orientation.
The bill has cleared a House committee, and a companion measure is under consideration in the state Senate. The clock is ticking on the measures, with the current legislative session set to expire at the end of May.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Representative James Frank, said it is meant to protect faith-based providers for exercising their deeply held religious beliefs.
"A child welfare services provider may not be required to provide any services that conflict with the provider's sincerely held religious beliefs," the bill says.
Critics contend the bill could allow state agencies to use religion to deny potential parents the ability to adopt. They also say foster children could be forced to practice a faith that is not their own or be refused emergency contraception after a sexual assault.
"If passed, this legislation would be one of the most severe anti-LGBT discrimination measures in the nation, it would damage our state's reputation and could harm some of Texas's most vulnerable children," said Kathy Miller, president of the left-leaning activist group the Texas Freedom Network.
The bill calls on the state's Department of Family and Protective Services to make sure there are alternative providers to help children if any service is denied for religious beliefs, Frank said in a Facebook post on Sunday.
In the post, Frank lambasted as inflammatory and incorrect a report last week that said the bill could allow adoption agencies to ban Jews, Muslims and gays.
The bill is one of several measure before the Texas legislature that LGBT activists say infringe on the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans.
The legislation that has garnered the most attention is a bill that would require people to use restrooms in state facilities that correspond with the gender on their birth certificate, not the gender with which they identify.
The bill was approved by the Senate in March, but has languished in the House.
A similar law enacted about a year ago in North Carolina prompted the relocation of sporting events and economic boycotts. In March, lawmakers there rolled back the law and enacted a replacement.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Leslie Adler)