OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Lawmakers in Oklahoma have passed a bill that protects the religious convictions of foster and adoption agencies in the state, in that they may decline to place children in certain households if the arrangement would violate the tenets of their faith.
“To the extent allowed by federal law, no private child-placing agency receiving neither federal nor state funds shall be required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or 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,” reads SB 1140.
The bill was presented by Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Travis Dunlap, R-Bartlesville, and passed the House 56-21 on Thursday after clearing the Senate 35-9 in March. It now heads to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin, who has not indicated whether or not she will sign the legislation.
The proposal has received support from various faith-based groups in the state, including the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
“As Oklahoma Baptists, we want to voice our strong support of Senate Bill 1140, which we believe is necessary to protect the religious liberty of faith-based adoption providers in Oklahoma,” Executive Director Hance Dilbeck told the Tulsa Beacon. “Faith-based organizations have been on the leading edge of providing hope and good homes for children in need of adoption or foster care.”
He and retiring director Anthony Jordan wrote to lawmakers to explain their position.
“We have been alarmed and outraged to learn of threats to the religious liberty and moral convictions of faith-based agencies in other parts of the country, such as Massachusetts,” they wrote. “In Oklahoma, now is the time to ensure equal opportunity and protection for individuals and groups involved in foster care and adoption. Indeed the very survival and future of such organizations depends upon it.”
Homosexual advocacy groups have argued that the bill is discriminatory and seeks to keep those in same-sex relationships from adopting children.
“Leadership of both houses forced an unneeded, unwanted, and un-American bill onto the governor’s desk. This measure does nothing but keep Oklahoma’s most vulnerable youth out of loving and committed homes,” opined Freedom Oklahoma Executive Director Troy Stevenson following Thursday’s vote, which he called a “disgrace.”
However, Senator Treat said that the bill does nothing to stop homosexuals from adopting. Lawmakers who have pondered similar proposals have noted that secular persons can use secular agencies, rather than trying to force Christian or Catholic groups to violate their convictions.
The measure, Treat outlined, simply protects those faith-based groups from government punishment so that they can freely help address the foster and adoption needs in the state.
“It doesn’t do anything … to prohibit same-sex couples from adopting,” he told television station KFOR. “All it does is protect faith-based institutions who wish to participate, and some are sitting on the sideline right now. And I hope to get them involved to help us take care of the huge need.”
Lawmakers in Kansas are pondering similar legislation, which has already cleared the House. The Mercury News reports that while religious foster and adoption agencies have been operating for years without issue, some fear that they will be sued or that the political climate in the state could turn hostile toward them.
The late Anglican preacher J.C. Ryle once said, “Be very sure of this: People never reject the Bible because they cannot understand it. They understand it all too well. They understand that it condemns their own behavior. They understand that it witnesses against their own sins and summons them to judgment.”