It would have been easy to protect the liberties of religious organizations while at the same time protecting the religious liberties of subcontracted agencies, service providers, and most importantly the children in foster care. I am very disappointed our legislators chose to go in another direction with this bill.
Religious organizations could already reject foster and/or adoptive parents that don’t fit into their belief structure. However, as the state continues to privatize foster care placements (and it is likely they will also privatize casework this session), single source continuum providers are wielding an increasingly large role in our child welfare system. A single source continuum provider is a foster/adoptive agency that is responsible for all foster care placements within a region. They essentially have a monopoly over the region. Because they cannot possibly absorb all of the children in a region they subcontract other agencies. They also contract with service providers such as therapists for children in care (and soon, their parents as well). A religious organization may be a single source continuum provider. Many foster care/adoption agencies are secular and license any home that is fit to receive children. However, according to HB 3859 a religious organization can choose not to subcontract a secular agency for placements, or refuse to contract with a secular therapist. According to HB 3859, a religious organization or foster home may spiritually instruct a child or place them in a religious school without any regard for the child’s religious beliefs or their wishes. There are no protections for biological family members to have a say in their child’s religious instruction under this bill. LGBT and non-Christian children may be forced to receive therapeutic services from a religious provider that is neither accepting nor affirming.
Under HB 3859, there are no protections for a child wishing to receive birth control or other types of medical care if it is in conflict with their foster care agency, even if the child is of age to be their own medical consenter. HB 3859 states that if a child requests medical care that the placement is unwilling to provide then the child may be referred to another family. This is asking a child to choose between receiving types of medical care or having to uproot yet again. This is unacceptable.
Although religious organizations could already reject families based on religious grounds, they now can dictate to secular agencies that they must do the same. It is wrong to reduce the number of safe and caring homes for foster kids at a time when they are already experiencing a dangerous shortage of available placements. It is unacceptable that there are children sleeping in crowded foster homes or CPS offices while there are LGBT and/or non-Christian parents eager to care for them.
A religious liberty bill should protect the liberties of all parties, especially the children being served.