Georgia Adoption Bill Harms Children In The Name Of ‘Religious Freedom'

From AU's Wall of Separation blog:

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In Georgia, there are more than 14,000 children in foster care. Tomorrow morning at 8:00am, legislators there will debate a bill that would make it even harder for these children to find safe, stable, and loving homes.

SB 375, introduced by Georgia Senator William Ligon, would allow taxpayer-funded adoption or foster care providers to cite religion to justify discriminating against the kids in their care and the parents who want to provide them homes. Most often, LGBTQ kids and parents will be the targets of the discrimination; but, so long as the provider cites a “sincerely-held religious belief,” it can discriminate against anyone or deny any service it doesn’t want to provide.

Religious freedom is a fundamental American value, but it doesn’t give anyone—especially not an entity funded by the government—the right to ignore laws and policies that protect children and families.

How would the bill affect the kids in foster care? First, the provider could cite religion to refuse to serve some children at all.  For example, a provider could say it won’t take in a child because he is gay, belongs to the “wrong” religion, or is the “wrong” gender. Such rejection is unconscionable, and would compound the already difficult circumstances these children face.

Second, the provider could name religion as a reason to refuse to provide children with the services they need. The provider could claim a right to deny mental health counseling to a child who was a victim of abuse because its religion rejects psychiatric treatment. An agency could also claim a right to refuse to provide a teenager who is a victim of sexual abuse needed healthcare services—something that she would have no other way to obtain. This could cause real damage to the children in these providers’ care.

Third, the bill would allow providers to discriminate against qualified prospective parents. For example, an agency could refuse to allow a child to be adopted by his aunt because she has been divorced, has used birth control or is married to her same-sex partner. This would not just harm the human dignity of the parents, but also would deny children an opportunity to find their forever family.

The state is already partnering—and has always partnered—with faith-based groups to provide these services. If passed, however, this bill would allow providers to put their religious beliefs above the best interests of the children in their care. They could ignore the laws and contractual obligations that apply to every other organization that serves children in the adoption and foster care system. That is unacceptable.

This bill isn’t new. Sen. Ligon tried to add this language to a different adoption bill during the last minutes of last year’s legislative session. That attempt failed and so he is back again this year with SB 375. The backlash to bills like SB 375 by businesses and sports leagues across the country has been strong and swift, including in Georgia when it was considering passing a different “religious freedom bill” a few years ago. So passing SB 375 seems like a bad move for anyone trying to lure Amazon to their state. It seems unlikely Amazon would want to rollout its new campus in a state that’s just passed a discriminatory bill like this.

If you want more information about SB 375, you can check out our memo. If you want to watch the livestream of the hearing, you can do that here. And if you live in Georgia, please take action today!