Legislation would give state-funded, faith-based agencies the right to refuse service to anyone on religious grounds.
Those of us who support equality for all were hoping for the best, but were largely unsurprised by the 4-1 vote by the Michigan Senate Families, Senior & Human Services Committee to send a package of discriminatory adoption bills for consideration and a likely vote by the full Senate.
House Bills 4188, 4189 and 4190 would allow child placement agencies to discriminate against families who want to adopt or become foster parents on the basis of the agencies’ “firmly held religious beliefs.” Modeled after “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA) legislation, the bills do not include any provisions to protect the best interests of the children — only the interests of adoption agencies. This, when there are 13,000 children in Michigan in foster care and in need of a forever home at any given time.
It was a callous and cold-hearted decision to move this legislation forward after an outpouring of opposition against these bills. Faith leaders, former foster children, adoptive parents, social workers and concerned citizens all came before the committee to explain why this legislation serves no purpose but to discriminate against people with views that differ from those of faith-based adoption agencies.
The biggest issue here is discrimination against the LGBT community, but as the testimony revealed, these bills open the door to discrimination against anyone. Both would-be parents and children of faiths different from the agencies in question could be denied service, along with single parents or anyone else the agency deems as going against their beliefs.
I watched most of the testimony via the Senate live feed, and was deeply moved by the stories of those who spoke out against the bills. The testimony in support of the legislation made no sense to me, because I don’t understand how it’s possible to claim to serve everyone while asking for the right to turn people away.
Even if you put bigotry and discrimination aside, the fact remains that agencies that receive state funding should not be allowed to turn away anyone — for any reason, but especially not because of a religious objection. That’s a clear violation of the Michigan Constitution. If agencies choose to serve only people of their own faith or other beliefs, they should remain private agencies that receive no state funding.
It’s worth noting just how many religious leaders and people of faith oppose the legislation. As just one example, here’s the written testimony submitted by Jeff Liebmann, shared with his permission:
My name is Jeff Liebmann and a serve as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Midland. As a minister, I join many people of faith throughout Michigan concerned about dangerous attempts to redefine our American understanding of religious freedom. HB 4188, 4189 and 4190, for example, will not only have enormous negative impacts on our children and families throughout the state, but truly threaten the freedom of religious belief of our citizens.
Thomas Jefferson – the primary author of the American understanding of religious freedom – wrote the following. “Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness…that the impious presumption of legislature and ruler, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time … that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.”
Jefferson, Adams and the other Founders never intended for governments or agencies acting on behalf of government to possess, let alone exert influence via the application of religious beliefs. They certainly never intended for citizens to be denied rights based on their religion.
Our current adoption system screens prospective parents for necessary qualifications – stability, income, physical and mental health, and motivations. No agency receiving public funding should ever be allowed to impose what in effect would be a state religion on those it serves on behalf of the state.
These bills will permit agencies to discriminate not only against gay or transgender parents, but also nonreligious parents, religious parents who are not Christian (or who are even the ‘wrong kind’ of Christian, parents who have previously been divorced, or any number of other religion-based criteria. This is not religious freedom. This is a violation of our fundamental right to be free from a state-sanctioned religion. These bills are nothing but a licence to discriminate and to promulgate unsubstantiated allegations about people based solely on religious opinion.
People of faith across the state urge you to reject these bills are fraudulent attempts to dismantle a core freedom of this nation.
The futures of thousands of Michigan children and families are at stake, and given the current makeup of the Michigan Legislature it seems likely that the Senate will vote in favor of this discriminatory legislation. But there’s still time to contact your Senator and urge a NO vote — and it’s not too soon to contact Governor Rick Snyder and ask him to veto these bills if they come to his desk for a signature after a Senate vote.
Equality Michigan has also posted a petition you can use to voice your opposition to these bills.
[Image via Pixabay.]