DEC 10, 2014, 6:00 AM
Foster care placement bill is another lame duck disaster
Lame duck lawmakers in Lansing are at it again, passing controversial legislation as they did two years ago.
One such bill, which just made it out of the House, is Bill No. 4991. On its face, 4991 will protect the sincerely held religious beliefs of non-government agencies that are involved in child placement. In reality, this bill, if it is passed by the State Senate then signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, will open up the door to religious-based discrimination that will be enabled by tax dollars.
I believe strongly that religious non-profit organizations and institutions have the right to discriminate based upon their bona religious beliefs and values in some circumstances. Churches, temples and mosques have the right not to hire clergy who disbelieve in their particular theologies. It would make no sense for an Evangelical Church to be compelled to hire — or even consider — a rabbi as its pastor, for instance. Likewise, private religious schools have the right to exclude teachers who believe and articulate issues that run counter to the institution’s doctrines. I wouldn’t want an atheist to be teaching religious studies at the Islamic school which my children attend. This is protected discrimination of non-profit religious organizations under the Free Exercise Clause.
The problem with this legislation is that it would allow discretion of placement agencies receiving tax dollars to deny placing children in suitable foster care homes based upon moral subjectivity.
It is simply inappropriate for agencies receiving state funding to have the ability to discriminate as to how children are placed in foster care homes based on their self-determined religious or moral convictions. We simply cannot trust the goodwill of organizations to place children in suitable homes for their overall well-being in, when those entities and their employees could have religious and political biases against certain segments of the population.
With all of the economic and educational challenges facing our state, it’s mind-boggling that such divisive legislation would be introduced by the House. If passed into law, this will undoubtedly be challenged in the courts and add to the perception that many hold across America that Michigan is a dysfunctional state.
If this passes the State Senate, I hope Gov. Snyder shows the good sense to veto the legislation, which appears, on its face, to be unconstitutional. It’s better for the State Senate at this point to do nothing and clean out their offices instead of passing legislation that will waste hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money in defending it from litigation at the federal level.