Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has signed a bill into law that would allow private adoption agencies to refuse to place children with a family that conflicts with their religious beliefs.
Lee signed the bill last Friday. It states that “no private licensed child-placing agency shall be required to … participate in any placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement would violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies.”
“This bill prohibits [the government] from denying to a private licensed child-placing agency any grant, contract, or participation in a government program because of the agency's objection to participating in a placement that violates the agency's moral convictions,” notes the legislation.
“The department of children's services shall not deny an application for an initial license or renewal of a license or revoke the license of a private child-placing agency because of the agency's objection to performing, assisting, counseling, recommending, consenting to, referring, or participating in a placement that violates the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies.”
The legislation also prohibits any civil actions being taken against faith-based adoption agencies that refuse on religious grounds to place children in homes they morally disagree with, notably same-sex couples.
The bill passed the House last April with a vote of 67 ayes to 22 nays. The Senate did not take it up until this year, eventually voting 20 to 6 in favor of the proposed legislation.
Critics of the legislation included the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which labeled the bill discriminatory against LGBT individuals.
“Families who want to foster or adopt should be judged by their ability to provide loving and stable homes, not because they tick all the boxes of a taxpayer-funded agency’s religious or moral conviction checklist,” stated ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg last year.
“Turning away good families because they don’t satisfy one agency’s religious preferences would deny thousands of children in Tennessee’s foster care system access to the families they desperately need.”
Others, including Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, saw the legislation as “a common-sense measure designed to ensure that the issue of child welfare continues to be a priority in Tennessee.”
“Protecting the rights of faith-based organizations in Tennessee to operate according to their religious convictions and sincerely held beliefs is good for everyone,” wrote Moore in a column for The Tennessean earlier this month.
“Curtailing or, as we have seen in some states, shutting faith-based organizations out of adoption and foster care would only place an even greater strain on a child-welfare system that is already carrying far too heavy a load.”