Last week, the South Dakota House passed SB 149, a bill that would allow child-welfare agencies in the state to discriminate in providing services to children in its care and against qualified prospective parents under the guise of religious freedom. The legislation, which passed 43-20, is on the verge of becoming law.
SB 149 gives taxpayer-funded child-placement agencies the right to refuse to provide services to children if doing so is contrary to the agency’s religious beliefs—basically providing them with a religious right to discriminate against nearly anyone. This is so nefarious because it targets some of the most vulnerable people in our society—children in need of loving homes—and the adults who want to care for them. If this bill becomes a law, a child placement agency 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 believes the couple’s religion is sinful. An agency could effectively require an LGBTQ child’s foster family to send the child to a dangerous and discredited “conversion therapy” program. Although proponents of the bill claim that the legislation helps religiously affiliated child-placement agencies continue to operate without compromising their religious beliefs, it’s obvious that this comes at the expense of the well-being of children in need.
Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. It gives us the right to believe—or not—as we see fit. It doesn’t, however, mean religion can be used as an excuse to discriminate. We will continue to fight to protect our neighbors against harm in the name of religion, including bills in states across the country.