Michigan's House committee debated two bills this week that would allow faith-based adoption agencies that receive state funds to refuse to place a child in a home based on moral or religious beliefs. Proponents of the bill argue that it protects the religious freedom of faith-based adoption agencies, while opponents argue it serves as state-sanctioned religious discrimination.
In addition to allowing faith-based adoption agencies to refuse a home due to its faith or moral standards, the bills, entitled House Bill 4927 and 4928, also prohibit the state from refusing funds to these faith-based agencies if they deny a home based on religious grounds. According to multiple local media outlets, very little agreement was reached at Wednesday's House committee debate regarding the bills.
Committee chairman Rep. Kenneth Kurtz (R-Coldwater), the lead sponsor of House Bill 4927, spoke alongside Rep. Andrea LaFontaine (R-Columbus Township), the sponsor of Bill 4928, at the hearing in support of the bills. The two sponsors argued that the bills put into statute what the state's Department of Human Services already informally practices. According to Michigan Live, a Department of Human Services representative said at the hearing that her department does not usually refer a family to an adoption agency that may raise religious objections.
William Blacquiere, president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, an adoption agency in Grand Rapids, testified at the hearing that the bills will not hamper any family from adopting a child. Rather, the purpose of the bills is to protect faith-based adoption agencies from going out of business by trying to force them to practice something that went against their religious beliefs.
"There is nothing in this bill that would preclude a single or secular person to adopt," Blacquiere said, as reported by the Detroit Free Press. "The bills are only concerned with individual faith-based agencies and will allow those agencies to continue to exercise their faiths."
The American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Michigan also spoke at Wednesday's hearing in opposition of the bills. Those against the bills argue that they would hinder same-sex couples from adopting children from a Christian adoption agency. The main sticking point with the bills is that the faith-based adoption agencies are receiving state money, and opponents argue that they sholudn't be able to pick based on religion when receiving taxpayer funds or grants.
"We see some version of this bill every year. It tries to write into Michigan law the right to discriminate based on religion or many other things," Shelli Weisberg, legislative liaison for the ACLU, previously told the Detroit Free Press in an earlier article. "We don't argue that faith-based agencies have their own rules, but they shouldn't be able to discriminate if they receive state money."
A similar bill was introduced last year, but it did not receive the full House vote to advance. The House committee said Wednesday that it will continue to hear testimonies regarding the legislation and also that it was exploring an amendment that would require faith-based agencies to help the applicants they reject find a different adoption agency.