Tennessee House Advances Bill Protecting Rights of Faith-Based Foster, Adoption Agencies

Photo Credit: Lina Kivaka

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee House of Representatives has advanced a bill that would protect the rights of faith-based state-contracted foster care and adoption agencies to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs.

House Bill 836, sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, passed 67-22 on April 1, and is now awaiting a committee hearing in the Senate, where its companion bill, Senate Bill 1304, is sponsored by Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon.

“To the extent allowed by federal law, no private licensed child-placing agency 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,” the bill reads in part.

It also prohibits the Department of Children’s Services from denying a placement agency a license or license renewal “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.”

Foster and adoption agencies also may not be sued for damages or injunctive relief because of their free exercise of religion.

According to reports, the bill is a preemptive measure that is modeled after a similar law in Virginia. Rudd said during House debate that in other states, faith-based organizations have “been sued to the point of driving them out of business” and the legislation is “just codifying what the Supreme Court has said.”

Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, is one of the supporters of the measure.

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“What we’re doing is saying if you have a religious faith, we as a body are going to intervene before the courts do. And we’re going to stand with you, and say we will stand with you in tolerance and allow you to be you,” he told the Tennessean.

Homosexual advocacy groups have opposed the measure as being discriminatory, as well as those who believe that the bill would allow the agencies to decline to place children in homes that, for example, are not Christian.

“If this bill becomes law, same-sex couples, people of various religious beliefs, and people with no religious beliefs now face the prospect of being turned away from adoption agencies that they helped fund because they are labeled morally or religiously objectionable, which leaves children and youth with longer wait times for permanent homes,” Chris Sanders, the executive director of Tennessee Equality Project, told the outlet.

“Jesus seems to know it. Buddha seems to know it. Our Jewish tradition put it like this: what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor,” also argued Philip Rice, a rabbi with Congregation Micah in Brentwood, according to Nashville Public Radio. “And this legislation is hateful.”

Rudd has noted that those interested in adopting who do not align with a particular agency are not being prevented from parenting as there are other organizations available as options.

The bill will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee in the days and weeks ahead. A date has not yet been determined.

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