Why Does South Dakota Want to Discriminate Against Vulnerable Children?

There are few social services more sensitive than caring for and protecting children who need loving, permanent homes.  We place inordinate trust in those tasked with providing this care and expect them to follow one simple rule: do what is best for the child. 

But, earlier this week, the South Dakota House Health and Human Services Committee voted 5-2 to allow child placement agencies to substitute their religious beliefs for the child’s best interest, leaving us wondering why?  Why is this even an issue – is there some problem giving “paramount consideration to the best interests of the child” that is in current law? 

There’s no way to get around how harmful SB 149 would be.  A child-welfare agency in South Dakota would now be able to discriminate in providing services to children in its care and against qualified prospective parents.

For example, if the state funded agency has a religious view against divorce, under this law it could refuse to place a child with her grandmother because the grandmother has remarried.  Or, based on its religious beliefs, an agency could refuse to place a child with a loving couple because it believed the couple’s religion is sinful.  An agency could require an LGBTQ child under their care to attend a dangerous and discredited “conversion therapy” program. 

The bill is so broad almost anything could be included. Prospective parents could be denied because they would have the child vaccinated against the religious beliefs of the agency or the agency could require kids to go to church. This discrimination against state’s most vulnerable children and their neighbors who want to care for them would be funded by taxpayers.  

At the hearing legislators in support of SB 149 could only raise red herrings.  They wanted to know if a child could be placed with pedophiles or parents who believe in genital mutilation.  Those questions are completely off the mark. 

How could it possibly be the best interest of a child to live to with known pedophiles or parents who want to mutilate their children? Child placement agencies don’t need to claim their religion prevents them placing the child with these types of parents, the law already prohibits it.   

This bill is not just unnecessary but would surely harm further harm most state’s most vulnerable children and discriminate against its residents. So why? There is no good answer.