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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, R, signed a bill into law last week that will protect faith-based adoption and foster care agencies from discrimination based on their decision to place children with families in accordance with their religious beliefs.
The law states that the state may not take any discriminatory action against an adoption or foster care agency on the basis that a person “has provided or declines to provide adoption or adoption services or foster care or foster care services based on or in a manner consistent with the person’s religious belief or exercise of religion.”
It also allows those who have a contract with the state to submit an alternative proposal to meet the contract if they object to providing a service required by the contract. They may also collaborate with another contractor in order to perform the service.
Proponents of the law say that it is needed to protect against discrimination directed at faith-based adoption care agencies as has been seen in other states that require them to either place children with LGBT couples or be shut down.
The Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative group, stated, “States have given in to pressure to exclude individuals, companies, and organizations that hold a historical or religious view of human sexuality. This unconstitutional mandate forces religious organizations to either violate their religious convictions or stop providing adoption and foster care services, which they have done for decades.”
After Ducey signed the law, the group tweeted, “Arizona will protect the interest of children and faith-based foster care & adoption agencies by prohibiting discrimination based on religious views. Thank you, @DougDucey for signing #SB1399, and @SineKerr, sponsor #AZLeg.”
Critics claim, however, that the law will decrease the number of foster care families. The Anti-Defamation League said, “A child welfare agency should make decisions based on what is in the best interests of a child, not based on religious beliefs. This bill is overt and undeniable discrimination. No child should be denied a foster or adoptive home simply because of a prospective parent’s religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other personal characteristics.”
By allowing faith-based adoption agencies to discriminate based on religious beliefs, these critics claim that being a different religion than the agency would disqualify some prospective parents and deter people from being adoptive or foster parents.
Also contended is the law’s protection of foster parents’ right to raise a child according to their religious beliefs. The state “may not discriminate against a person to whom the state government grants custody of an adopted child or foster child on the basis that the person guides, instructs or raises a child or intends to guide, instruct or raise a child in a manner consistent with the person’s religious belief or exercise of religion.”
Detractors claim this puts the rights of foster parents above those of the child or the child’s biological parents. Sen. Marcelino Quiñonez, D-Phoenix, said, “While a child is in foster care, the biological parents’ and child’s religious beliefs must be respected…When a child is in foster care, their parents retain their constitutional right to direct the education and religious upbringing of their child.”
While opponents claim this law is discriminatory and limits the number of people willing to be parents, the state is on firm footing. The Supreme Court spoke clearly on this issue last summer in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, ruling 9-0 that Philadelphia had violated the First Amendment by barring Catholic Social Services from participating in the foster care system for refusing to place children with LGBT couples. In doing so, the city had lost people like long-time foster parent Sharonelle Fulton.
The Court decided that far from expanding the number of prospective parents, the city had lessened them. “Exemplary foster parents like petitioners Sharonelle Fulton and Toni Lynn Simms-Busch are blocked from providing loving homes for children they were eager to help. The City apparently prefers to risk leaving children without foster parents than to allow CSS to follow its religiously dictated policy, which threatens no tangible harm,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.
Regarding the alleged elevation of foster parent rights over the child or biological parents, the law contains a provision that the state may consider the religious beliefs of the child when placing them.
This law doesn’t stop LGBT people from adopting, it stops the state from forcing religious people and organizations to adopt secular ideology or close down. That will result in expanded options — not fewer ones — for foster children.