Tenn. House passes bill to protect religious liberty of adoption agencies

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As other US states have defunded adoption agencies that won't place children with same-sex couples, the Tennessee House on Monday passed a bill meant to ensure these agencies' religious freedom.

HB 836 was passed in the lower house of the state legislature April 1 by a 67-22 vote.

The bill would grant legal protections to adoption organizations which uphold marriage as a union between a man and woman and provides its services accordingly.

It is sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd and five other Republicans.

The bill now faces the GOP-controlled Senate. Governor Bill Lee, also a Republican, has not yet given his position on the bill.  

The measure protects religious agencies from being subjected to lawsuits for not placing children with same-sex couples. It also states that the department of children's services cannot withhold a license from agencies that do so.

"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 states.

Although religious adoption agencies in Tennessee have not been prevented from acting out of their moral convictions, the bill comes at a time when Catholic agencies in other states have been shut down or denied access to funding.  

Rudd said the bill is comparable to cautionary steps taken by Kansas and Oklahoma, who passed similar laws last year.

"We're doing the same as nine other states have done," said Rudd of Murfreesboro, according to the AP. "Throughout the country, these faith-based organizations have been sued to the point they're being driven out of business due to costs."

Critics of the bill have said the legislation would be used to permit LGBT discrimination. According to the AP, Democratic Rep. John Clemmons questioned the practicality of religious agencies turning away same-sex couples.

"We have children across this state looking for loving homes, why are we doing anything to prohibit a loving family or a couple from being able to care of a child and take it in and provide for it, why?" said Clemmons.

Laws barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or barring state funding from adoption agencies considered discriminatory have shut down Catholic adoption agencies in Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and Illinois, among others.

Last month, it was announced that Michigan state funds would be barred from adoption agencies for the same reason. It followed a settlement headed by the ACLU and same-sex couples against two Christian adoption agencies. The lawsuit ruled that non-discrimination provisions must be enforced within state contracts.

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