SB 375, “Keeping Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act”

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So far the Georgia General Assembly passed an adoption overhaul bill without religious freedom protection for faith based adoption and foster care agencies. This past week a new bill was heard in a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary that added religious freedom protection for faith based adoption and foster care agencies.

The bill, known as SB 375 “Keeping Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act”, now goes to the full Judiciary Committee for consideration. Please be in prayer for the its passage; Sen. William Ligon is the author.

The Georgia Baptist Mission Board supports SB 375 because it ensures that the State of Georgia will continue to respect the special missions of faith-based child-placing agencies. Georgia has always recognized the importance of faith-based agencies and their mission statements. The State has a constitutional duty to be proactive in protecting First Amendment freedom for religious persons and their institutions.

We know already of at least three States – Illinois, Massachusetts, and California, as well as Washington, D.C. – where faith-based child-placing agencies have shut down because of state policies that required them to compromise their sincerely held religious beliefs regarding the biblical view of the family. We believe that such official hostility to religious organizations is contrary to their ability to “uniquely contribute to the pluralism of American society by their religious activities,” as held in Walz v. Tax Commission, 397 U.S. 664, 689 (1970).

The free exercise of religion “implicates more than just freedom of belief. It means, too, the right to express those beliefs and to establish one’s religious (or nonreligious) self-definition in the political, civic, and economic life of our larger community,” as held by the U. S. Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 134 S. Ct. 2751, 2785 (2014) (Kennedy, J., concurring). Therefore, faith-based child-placing agencies have the right to free exercise of religion under the U. S. Constitution and under well-settled principles of constitutional law, this right includes the freedom to abstain from conduct that conflicts with an agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

It should be noted that the Office of the Attorney General, in its October 6, 2017 Memorandum wrote, “In the United States, the free exercise of religion is not a mere policy preference to be traded against other policy preferences. It is a fundamental right,” and the letter noted, “The Free Exercise Clause protects against ‘indirect coercion or penalties on the free exercise of religion’ just as surely as it protects against ‘outright prohibitions’ on religious exercise.”

We, as Georgia Baptists, are extremely concerned that the State of Georgia is one of those states that is leaving faith-based organizations, as well as individuals, vulnerable to law suits by failing to provide specific statutory clarity protecting religious liberty. Faith-based child placing agencies, which have proven to be of great benefit to children and families in Georgia over the years, should be able to continue to provide adoption and foster care services according to their long-standing mission statements.

We must all see that protecting the conscience rights and religious liberty of private adoption and foster-placement providers takes nothing away from others. A diverse range of provider options exist for anyone who is legally able and willing to adopt or provide foster care.

Ensuring a diversity of private providers and their ability to operate according to their values – and with families who share those values – makes it more likely that the greatest possible number of children will become part of permanent, loving families. We believe this is something that all Georgians want.

Georgia Baptists were disappointed that the original adoption bill that dealt with the needs of so many vulnerable children in Georgia originally had no protections whatsoever for faith-based organizations, and then once it was added, it had to be removed to move through the process. We are thankful now that this omission can be corrected with the affirmative language of SB 375, which honors the free exercise of religion and freedom of association of all faith-based child placement agencies.

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