Tomorrow, an Oklahoma House committee will take up Senate Bill 1140, a bill that would allow taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care entities to deny kids good homes in the name of religion.
Longstanding child welfare law says that child-placing agencies must provide services based solely on what is in the best interest of the child they are serving. SB 1140, however, would undermine this bedrock child welfare standard by putting the religious beliefs of agencies ahead of the best interests of the children.
Under this bill, agencies could refuse to perform, assist or participate in any child placement in the name of religion. That means private agencies that receive state funding could discriminate against prospective adoptive and foster parents because they are a same-sex couple, are interfaith or were previously divorced.
This bill not only harms devoted and loving potential parents who will be denied the ability to adopt or foster children. It also harms the children themselves, who will be forced to stay in foster care longer and will have a harder time finding their forever home.
There are nearly 9,000 kids in state custody. And the state needs more than 1,000 foster families in 2018. Oklahoma agencies need to open their doors to more qualified families, not close them. Passing this bill would make Oklahoma’s foster care problems worse because many potential parents who are looking to adopt or foster will be turned away. And it will discourage others who are thinking about expanding their families from even trying to adopt or foster because they will know they are not welcome in their state. In the end, fewer potential parents means children will be denied the loving, stable and permanent homes they deserve.
So far this year, legislators in a handful of states have introduced bills that would allow taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate in the name of religion.
In Georgia, fierce opposition helped kill its bill before the legislature adjourned for the year. The bill was opposed by civil rights and business groups, as well as Georgia business leaders, who feared it would hurt the state’s reputation, particularly when trying to attract Amazon’s new headquarters. An Atlanta Chamber of Commerce official explained, “Legislation that sanctions discrimination and limits options for children in need of a permanent home takes us further away from our goal of attracting investments that improve the lives of Georgia families.” Oklahoma should take this message to heart.
Religious freedom guarantees all of us the freedom to believe or not as we see fit, but it does not give state-funded agencies the right to use religion as an excuse to harm children and families. State-funded agencies should not be allowed to use religion to justify denying children loving homes.