sincerely held religious beliefs

Scare quotes aside, latest takedown -- er, takeout -- on Texas adoption law could be worse

Scare quotes aside, latest takedown -- er, takeout -- on Texas adoption law could be worse

Here.

We.

Go.

Again.

Texas' new adoption law, set to take effect Sept. 1, is back in the news — this time via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Gay rights vs. religious liberty is, of course, the major tug of war at play here. (Honk if you've already read a post or two or three on this issue at GetReligion this week).

The Star-Telegram's 1,800-word piece is not terrible. Granted, it's not going to win any awards for fair and balanced journalism. But the paper makes at least a cursory attempt to reflect both sides.

Nonetheless, it seems clear which side the newspaper favors — the one featured in the lede and conclusion as the Star-Telegram focuses on this theme:

Some 20,000 Texas kids need homes. But will a new law turn families away?

Let's start at the top and see how long it takes the first scare quotes to appear:

Franklin and Amy Countryman dream of someday serving as foster parents to children who need homes — and possibly adopting a child or two.
But the Mansfield newlyweds fear a new Texas law geared to let child welfare service providers deny children to Texans based on a provider’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” could make their quest harder.
At issue: Many adoption agencies are faith-based and likely will oppose the couple’s move to be foster parents because Franklin is transgender. And the new law that goes into effect Sept. 1 would allow that.

Want more scare quotes? The Star-Telegram also feels compelled to put "the rights of conscience," the "Freedom to Serve Children Act" and "reasonable accommodations" inside quote marks. Would any of those phrases fail to make sense without quote marks? Or is the Star-Telegram intentionally casting doubt on the use of the terms (which would make them scare quotes)?

But just when it appears that the story will be a one-sided editorial, the paper actually allows the other side a voice. Among those quoted is Randy Daniels, vice president of program development for Baptist-affiliated Buckner Children & Family Services:

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Do the media have a 'conscience?' Not when it comes to foster care and religious liberty in Texas

Do the media have a 'conscience?' Not when it comes to foster care and religious liberty in Texas

My parents, Bob and Judy Ross, served for 25 years as houseparents at Christ's Haven for Children, a Christian child-care ministry based in Keller, Texas.

Mom and Dad lost count of the exact number of children for whom they cared. Some came into their home and stayed just a few days. Others they raised from preschool through high school graduation. In all, more than 250 girls lived in my parents’ cottage.

My mother said she and Dad always wanted a mission to lead people to Jesus Christ. At Christ’s Haven, they found it. They studied the Bible with all the girls in their care, and Dad baptized many of them, as I noted in a Christian Chronicle column in 2007.

I couldn't help but recall my parents' experience as I read a Texas Tribune story this week proclaiming that "Texas' next religious liberty fight could be over foster care":

You can’t talk about religious liberty in Texas without mentioning Lester Roloff.
In the 1970s, Roloff, a Baptist preacher, was known for his homes for teenagers in Corpus Christi. A 1973 legislative report on child care in the state said members heard testimony from children previously in Roloff's Rebekah Home for Girls about irregular meals and whippings. Roloff told lawmakers his homes should be exempted from state interference due to his religious roots.
“We spanked them because God loves them, and we love them,” Roloff told the committee.
Those hearings led to the Legislature passing Senate Bill 965 in 1975, which established child care licensing laws in the state.
Now, 42 years later, Texas legislators are considering sharpening religious protections for faith-based groups the state hires to place children in foster and adoptive homes and oversee their care. Critics say this could give religious groups license to use their faith as a reason to refuse to place foster children with gay couples or with families with certain religious beliefs. Legislators say this could halt bipartisan warmth on bills changing how Texas cares for abused and neglected children.

In the lede, the Texas Tribune sets a negative tone on the legislation right away — and that critical theme dominates the story. Besides the bill's author, the "nonpartisan media organization" quotes six sources. Five of them voice concerns about the bill. You get the (not-so-balanced) picture.

The bill itself (read the full text here) addresses "the conscience rights of certain religious organizations and individuals." However, guess what word never appears in the Tribune story? If you said "conscience," you win the prize.

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