Bill to deny adoptions on religious or moral beliefs debated in state House committee
By Kathleen Gray
September 12, 2013 / DetroitFreePress
LANSING — There was precious little middle ground Wednesday when a state House committee discussed bills that would allow private adoption agencies to refuse to place a child with a family if it goes against its religious or moral beliefs.
Supporters of the legislation say it won’t hamper anyone from adopting a child. But opponents said it would allow private agencies to discriminate against a wide range of people who are seeking a child to foster or adopt, but who don’t share the agency’s religious beliefs.
“As a Christian minister, I’m thankful for religious liberty,” said the Rev. Nicolette Siragusa of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Lansing. “But no public funds should go to an agency that disregards the best interests of the adoptee in favor of its own discriminatory doctrine. Our state already has a poor record of transitioning children from foster (care) to adoption.”
Opponents fear that the bills could allow agencies to refuse to work with same-sex couples, single people or potential clients of a different faith.
But William Blacquiere, president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, an adoption agency in Grand Rapids, said that without the bills, faith-based agencies might go out of business and even fewer adoptions would occur.
“There is nothing in this bill that would preclude a single or secular person to adopt,” he said, although they wouldn’t be able to adopt through his agency. “The bills are only concerned with individual faith-based agencies and will allow those agencies to continue to exercise their faiths.”
If a Muslim family came to his agency seeking to adopt a child, Blacquiere said he would work with the family to find them a more suitable agency to work with.
Opponents said they don’t mind if faith-based agencies use rules that follow their religious tenets.
“But any organization that operates and takes state money should not be able to deny child placements,” said Jay Kaplan, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “This is an attempt to write religious discrimination into state law.”
The bills would prohibit the state from denying funding or grants to an agency that denied placing children based on religious or moral beliefs.
“Faith-based adoption and foster care agencies, Catholic Charities for example, are prevalent in communities throughout the state and offer a multitude of services to destitute and vulnerable persons,” said Tom Hickson of the Michigan Catholic Conference. “It is imperative that the state continues to maintain and strengthen diversity in child placement.”
The bills have been brought up in previous sessions, but have never been taken up by the full House. State Rep. Kenneth Kurtz, R-Coldwater, sponsored one of the bills and plans to have another hearing in the near future on it in the House Families Children and Seniors Committee