On Friday evening, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed two bills that undermine religious freedom. The first, Senate Bill 1140, allows state-funded child-placing agencies to use religion to justify denying children homes and discriminating against prospective parents. She also signed House Bill 2177, which authorizes every government building and public school to display the Ten Commandments.
The Adoption Bill
SB 1140 permits state-funded adoption and foster care agencies to use religion as a reason to discriminate against potential parents. These agencies can now ignore the best interest of children – the bedrock standard for placing children – and deny them loving, stable homes. Children could be denied placement in families because the parents are a same-sex couple, are interfaith, were previously divorced or are a different faith than the agency. Taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion is always wrong, but adoption bills like SB 1140 are particularly troubling because children will be forced to pay the price.
AU joined a chorus of voices opposed to SB 1140. Nearly 80 Oklahoma faith leaders, congregations and organizations wrote a letter to Fallin urging her to veto the bill. Many voices in business and the entertainment industry also encouraged Fallin to reject the bill. And members of the governor’s own party were against the bill. During debate, Republican Rep. Leslie Osborn explained, “if you are using state and federal dollars, I believe in the separation of church and state, so ... you may do whatever you want as long as you’re not receiving federal and state funds.”
The Ten Commandments Bill HB 2177 allows the government to post the Ten Commandments in every public building in the state, including public schools. But as we told Fallin, such displays violate the state constitution. In 2015, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the Ten Commandments display that had been placed on the state Capitol grounds because it violated Article II, Section 5 of the state constitution. Under the constitution, the state government cannot use public money or property for any religious purpose, and the “the Ten Commandments are obviously religious in nature.”
In response to the decision, the legislature placed a referendum on the 2016 ballot that would have stripped that section from the constitution. On election day, 57 percent of voters rejected the proposed amendment, sending a clear message that they do not support government displays of the Ten Commandments.
In addition to violating the state constitution, government-sponsored Ten Commandments displays are divisive. Many Oklahomans practice religions that do not adhere to the Ten Commandments or practice no religion at all. Everyone who uses government buildings, whether by attending a public school, attending a court hearing or using the public library, should feel welcome and part of the community. These displays in public schools and on public property send a message that those who don’t share those beliefs are outsiders.
We are fighting bills like these in other states – and we need your help to defeat them. Kansas passed a similar adoption bill that would also allow publicly funded discrimination in child placements and that bill is now on Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer’s desk. If the governor signs the bill, children waiting for foster and adoptive homes will have to wait longer to find loving families. If you are from Kansas, you can urge Colyer to veto it. The South Carolina legislature is also moving a bill with a similar adoption provision. Under that bill, agencies could cite religious beliefs to refuse to serve kids who are LGBTQ or belong to the “wrong” religion, as well discriminate against qualified prospective parents.
If you want to learn more and join our fight against bills that use religion to discriminate, you can sign up to stay updated on these and other state bills.