The Committee on Families, Children, and Seniors of the Michigan House of Representatives held a hearing yesterday on HB 4927 and 4928. These bills would give adoption agencies the right to refuse to place children in homes if that placement is against the agency’s ”sincerely held religious beliefs.” If passed, this would explicitly allow adoption agencies to discriminate for religiously-motivated reasons against parents seeking to adopt. For example, the bills would allow the rejection of potential parents because they are previously divorced, unmarried, a same-sex couple, or adherents to a religion not practiced by the child placing agency. This discrimination would even be allowed when the agencies accept state funds, meaning that the state would sanction this type of discrimination.
The committee amended the language in these bills yesterday, allowing exemptions only for “sincerely held religious beliefs” – a change it believes will ensure that adoption agencies only discriminate on “legitimate” religious grounds instead of any arbitrary reason, such as being left-handed. However, the exemption still goes too far because it allows adoption agencies to put their interests above those of the potential adoptive families and worse, above the needs of the child. These “protections” for the adoptive agency might prevent the 1,400 foster children in Michigan from being adopted into a home according to their best interests.
AU supports some accommodations to protect the practice of religion, but not when those protections involve discriminating against others because they don’t observe certain religious viewpoints. This is especially true when the discrimination is funded by the government.
The government should not permit adoption agencies to use religion to discriminate, and it certainly should never fund it. Similar legislation was in the Michigan legislature last year and it did not pass --hopefully the same will happen this year. The committee will hear more testimony before voting on the bill.
This is part of a growing trend in Michigan of going too far to protect religious expression. This week the legislature also introduced a bill that claims to protect a student’s religious expression in public schools, but actually gives special privileges to religious speech. Not only does the bill needlessly clarify rights that students already have—like the right to engage in student-initiated, voluntary prayer—but it also allows prayers at football games and other athletic events, assemblies, and pep rallies. This violates the Constitutional guarantee that students have a right to attend public schools free from coercion to support or participate in religion or its exercise.
Check out AU’s State Action Center and watch for more state legislative updates!