Over the past several years, bills claiming to be about “religious liberty” have been introduced in statehouses across the country as well as the capitol in Pierre. Though religious freedom is a core American value – one the ACLU has spent nearly 100 years defending – the supporters of these bills take the concept of religious freedom and turn it on its head. Every American has the right to their beliefs and the right to act on those beliefs. But that right doesn’t give anyone, including the government, the right to discriminate against other people.
This year our legislators have introduced SB 149, a bill that would allow state-funded adoption and foster care placement agencies to discriminate against families based on the agency’s moral convictions or religious beliefs. This could prevent LGBT couples, interfaith couples, divorced people, and many otherwise qualified, loving people from adopting children. This discrimination would harm not only the caring families seeking to adopt, but also vulnerable children in the foster care system in South Dakota by denying them access to important services and a forever home.
When children are removed from their families by the state because of abuse or neglect, those children have the right to have their foster or adoptive families chosen based on their needs, not based on the religious convictions of the placement agency. Instead, this bill would prohibit South Dakota’s Department of Social Services from requiring agencies to prioritize the needs of the children.
Making matters even worse, this bill would allow an agency that receives taxpayer funds to discriminate against loving families to the detriment of children. Religious criteria may be used in purely private adoption arrangements made by birth parents, but not by taxpayer-funded agencies finding families for children in the state foster care system.