Good news: Media coverage of a Texas lawmaker's bill that he says is designed to protect the religious freedom of faith-based adoption agencies is improving.
Bad news: That coverage remains flawed.
I'll delve into specifics in a moment, but first, some important background: Earlier this week, I criticized The Associated Press for a slanted headline — and story — on the Lone Star State legislation.
The biased AP headline that sparked my concern:
Texas adoption agencies could ban Jews, gays, Muslims
The Dallas Morning News and many other news organizations in Texas and across the nation ran with the global wire service's spin. Those pushing the AP storyline included a state politics reporter for the Dallas newspaper:
I replied to the reporter:
The journalist did not acknowledge my tweet, but maybe — just maybe — she took the time to read it.
Today's Dallas Morning News coverage of the bill passing offers a fuller, fairer treatment than the original AP report, starting with the front-page headline:
Religious protections for adoption agencies OK’d
AUSTIN — The Texas House approved a bill Wednesday that would provide legal cover to adoption and foster care agencies that turn away prospective parents or refuse certain services based on the agencies’ religious beliefs.
Democrats and groups advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights said it amounted to state-sanctioned discrimination. Republicans heralded the bill’s passage as a step forward in addressing the state’s foster care crisis.
“This is a defensive bill. It allows everyone to participate,” said Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, the bill’s author. “It requires [Child Protective Services] to maintain a diverse network of homes and provides reasonable accommodations to those who are helping solve our foster care capacity crisis.”
After more than three hours of late-night debate Tuesday, the bill received final approval just before lunch Wednesday, passing by a vote of 93-49. It now heads to the Senate for further debate.
Note that the followup story still paints the bill in a negative light: Agencies want "legal cover" to "turn away prospective parents" and "refuse certain services." On the other hand, the bill text itself gives the purpose as "the protection of the rights of conscience for child welfare service providers."
But the latest story begins to answer some of the questions I raised in my last post and a previous one:
Among those questions: What number of adoptions are carried out by the state vs. faith-based agencies? And does this bill relate solely to state-funded providers — as previous stories indicated — or does it include private organizations licensed by the state but not subsidized by taxpayers?
Exact details are still sketchy, but the Dallas story offers some hints:
House Bill 3859 would apply to both taxpayer-funded and private child-placing agencies in Texas, of which roughly one-quarter are religiously affiliated. The bill would provide faith-based groups a legal defense if they’re sued for denying services because of their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
It would also prohibit the state from taking “adverse action” against such groups for placing a child in a religious school and denying a child in their care access to abortion or contraception, among other things.
“A child welfare services provider may not be required to provide any service that conflicts with the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs,” the bill reads.
Also, today's report gives some examples of faith-based agencies and their rules:
For example, Christian Homes & Family Services, based in Abilene, considers only prospective adoptive parents who attend church weekly and have been married for two years. Buckner International, based in Dallas, will consider single people on a case-by-case basis, but lets only couples married for four years or more become foster parents.
Many have policies to turn away LGBT individuals and couples or people of other faiths. Single women are ineligible to adopt or become a foster parent through many of these groups. One rule is clear: “no trampolines.”
I don't quite understand the trampolines item. The paper appears to be saying that some providers won't adopt to parents who own trampolines. Or maybe I'm missing something?
Near the end of the story, the Dallas Morning News finds room for highly relevant piece of context:
A handful of other states, including South and North Dakota, Michigan and Virginia, have passed similar laws. Groups such as Catholic Charities have sued elsewhere and even ended services in California, the District of Columbia, Illinois and Massachusetts, where they said state adoption and foster care laws forced them to violate their beliefs.
Granted, the story doesn't actually quote anyone from a faith-based agency. In fact, like the previous AP story, the only supporter quoted is Frank, the bill's author. Meanwhile, two Democratic lawmakers and a gay-rights advocate are quoted in opposition.
So yes, the coverage still could stand some improvement. But it's much better than where we started ("Texas adoption agencies could ban Jews, gays, Muslims").
Moving forward, here's what I'd love to see: a story that provides a more definitive overview of faith-based agencies involved in foster care and adoption in Texas.
Questions for reporters: How much public funding is involved? Are the rules different for those that receive taxpayer dollars and those that don't? What specific faith groups are involved? How many children do they serve? What rights, including religious freedom, do those children have? And what is the faith-based agencies' position on the bill headed to the Texas Senate?