Written by Don Byrd

Via Religion Clause, the Alabama legislature this week sent HB 24, the Alabama Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act to newly sworn Governor Kay Ivey for her signature. The bill would allow a child placement service that receives no federal or state funds to decline services that “conflict with the religious beliefs of the provider.” 

Just last month, South Dakota enacted a law with a similar focus. One difference that stands out: the South Dakota law applies to all agencies, including those that receive government contracts to provide such services. In the Alabama bill, an amendment specifically carves out that it applies only to those agencies that do not receive government funds.

As Salon reports, the bill represents one more area of tension between religious free exercise interests and nondiscrimination interests.

[Representative Rich Wingo, t]he Republican lawmaker [who sponsored HB 24] believes that the bill is necessary to prevent faith-based adoption agencies from closing in order to avoid having to place children in same-sex homes. After the Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, a handful of such centers in Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Washington D.C. shuttered their doors. Wingo’s worried that the estimated 30 percent of adoption and foster care centers that are religiously affiliated will be forced to do the same in Alabama.

“It’s hard to see this as anything but animus toward LGBT families, but the bill could have a greater effect than that,” said Randall Marshall, the Legal Director for ACLU Alabama. “Agencies could turn away qualified families for countless other reasons that have no relevance to their ability to provide a safe loving home. A Catholic or Jewish agency could turn away Evangelical or Protestant families. A family could be turned away because they don’t attend church regularly.”

The House passed the measure on an 87-0 vote.