Alabama among states allowing faith-based foster care agencies to restrict child placement

By Martha Simmons
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

Homosexual and transgender issues are playing out in faith-based child placement agencies across America, and Alabama is no exception.

Alabama recently became one of the latest states to enact a “freedom of conscience” law that allows faith-based foster care agencies to restrict child placement based on the provider’s religious beliefs. Similar laws have been passed in Texas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Virginia and Michigan, while legislation is being considered elsewhere as well.

Alabama’s law applies only to those agencies not receiving any state or government funds. According to the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, South Dakota’s law applies to all foster and adoption agencies, including those with government contracts. Texas’ law, which goes into effect Sept. 1, does too, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Gov. Kay Ivey signed the Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act into law in May. Baptist Press reported that the governor’s office heard from numerous religious leaders in support of the bill, quoting Joe Godfrey, religious liberty advocate and executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP).

The bill was vehemently opposed by LBGT (lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender) activists who feared the law would be used to discriminate against them.

About 30 percent of all Alabama adoptions are placed through faith-based agencies, according to ALCAP.

Shutting down

Faith-based child placement agencies in several states have shut down rather than obey nondiscrimination laws covering sexual orientation.

Ivey suggested that the fear of child placement agencies shutting down in Alabama drove her decision to sign the bill.

“This bill is not about discrimination,” she told the Associated Press, “but instead protects the ability of religious agencies to place vulnerable children in a permanent home.”

But some scholars suggest such laws will only reduce the number of adoptive parents.

Writing in the May issue of the Journal of Legislation, Samantha R. Lyew said same-sex couples throughout the U.S. are raising some 58,000 foster and adopted children. An Auburn University graduate currently pursuing her law degree at Notre Dame Law School, Lyew said some 400,000 children are in foster care in America, with nearly 102,000 awaiting adoption. Same-sex couples are more likely to adopt their foster children, according to Lyew’s research.

Lyew’s article traces the ongoing tension between gay rights and religious freedom, noting the conflict is handled disparately according to state laws and political leanings.

“State treatment of same-sex couples seeking to foster or adopt children falls across the spectrum — from one extreme prohibiting child placement with same-sex couples, to treading a middle ground of indifference, to the opposite extreme promoting child placement with same-sex couples,” she wrote.

That certainly appears to be the case when contrasting Alabama’s approach with that of Illinois.

“The state of Illinois’ social services policies now bar social workers from employment and foster families from caring for children if they refuse to facilitate a child’s gender transition,” the Christian Post reported in June.

Transgender semantics

But the word “transgender” is not easily defined and has become so politicized and emotionally charged that Christians should beware of that label, said Andrew T. Walker, director of policy studies with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

A doctoral candidate in Christian Ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, Walker is the author of the forthcoming book “God and the Transgender Debate.”

“Unfortunately, to most, the semantics of transgenderism do much more than simply describe someone’s subjective psychological experiences,” Walker wrote in a recent article for the Witherspoon Institute. “Apparently the majority of those in our culture now subscribe to the idea that transitioning from one sex to another sex is something actually possible, despite this being physically, and metaphysically, impossible.”

Semantics or not, much of the politically charged debate about LGBT rights versus religious freedom, especially with regard to child placement, can be directly traced to the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex “marriage” legal nationwide.

Same-sex ‘marriage’

Legalizing same-sex “marriages” removed certain roadblocks for prospective LGBT parents as it overturned some states’ laws requiring that joint adoptions be limited to “a husband and a wife.” And other court challenges eliminated more direct legal prohibitions against allowing homosexuals to adopt, such as Florida’s law, which was overturned in 2010, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.

Following the same-sex “marriage” ruling, Alabama and other states began changing their child placement policies and forms accordingly. But that doesn’t mean the fight is over, Pew noted.

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