Written by Don Byrd

The Tennessee legislature is considering a bill that would allow faith-based child placement agencies to refuse to provide services if they have a religious objections, even if they are funded by taxpayers. In response, a Nashville Juvenile Court judge wrote an op-ed, published by the Tennessean this week, urging legislators and the Governor to reject the proposal, which she calls “a great disservice to the approximately 8,500 children currently in foster care in Tennessee.”

Judge Sheila Calloway emphasized that not only will this measure impact the ability of same-sex couples to become foster parents, it will also such agencies to make that determination on the basis of their religion. Here is an excerpt from her powerful op-ed (my emphasis):

This legislation, if passed, would allow agencies to reject prospective foster or adoptive parents simply because of their personal identities or beliefs. In addition to permitting discrimination against prospective foster parents, the legislation would also open the door for agencies to refuse services to youth whose religious views differ from that of the agency, including LGBTQ youth.

To be clear, the potential for discrimination inherent in these bills isn’t limited to the LGBTQ community. The legislation also expressly allows discrimination against people of various faiths and people with no religious beliefs. Adoption agencies in other states have used similar reasoning to attempt to block Catholic and Jewish parents from fostering and adopting children.

We should not open the door for this type of regressive religious discrimination in Tennessee.

As the piece goes on to note, other states that have enacted similar legislation have been subject to costly legal battles (see previous posts about recent legal disputes in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and South Carolina). 

The Baptist Joint Committee has long opposed any form of taxpayer-funded religious discrimination, including in the context of child placement services. “Government-funded placement programs,” BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler stated earlier this year, “should not be allowed to exclude qualified foster parents based on religion.”

HB 836 recently passed the state House and a similar measure is being debated in the Senate.