A bill before Kansas lawmakers says faith-based child agencies should not be required to place children in families if it conflicts with the religious values of the organization.
The private groups currently can choose not to serve some people, such as single parents or same-sex couples.
Supporters of the bill are concerned the Kansas policies could change and require staff of the religious organizations to violate their beliefs. Critics say the legislation will protect discrimination against LGBT families.
“This is just protecting the First Amendment right of faith-based child-placing agencies to exercise their religious freedom,” said Republican Rep. Susan Humphries, one of the bill’s supporters.
She said changes in policies have led agencies in other states to close, rather than make child placements they believe are inappropriate. She called that a “storm brewing” that could eventually affect Kansas.
“How are we going to serve the kids if agencies close?” Humphries asked. “We don’t need any less child placing agencies. We need more in Kansas.”
Deborah Snapp, with Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas, is one of the people concerned about possible changes the state might make limiting decisions her agency makes.
She said her organization has criteria when offering adoption services. For example, single parents, same-sex couples or unmarried couples approaching her agency would be directed to other organizations to assist them. She said the group’s philosophy is the birth parents should decide what type of family adopts their child.
“We do suggest that families should be free to pursue their own values,” Snapp said.
Snapp said future policy changes might require the agency to offer adoption services to anyone.
“If we were expected to place children with families that were not consistent with our faith belief, we would not be able to continue to provide adoption services,” Snapp said.
Some lawmakers asked wither the bill was needed, because there isn’t an indication of conflict developing in Kansas.
“Why didn’t we do this bill years ago … if that was really an issue?” asked Republican Rep. Stephanie Clayton. “This bill is unnecessary.”
Equality Kansas Executive Director Tom Witt said the legislation would give legal protection to discrimination.
“You can’t say gay couples aren’t good enough to be parents and at the same time say ‘but we’re not discriminating against gay couples,’” Witt said.
The bill exempts the two large state contractors currently handling foster care and adoption placement, KVC Kansas and St. Francis Community Services.
However, the legislation says organizations can’t be denied state contracts because of the group’s religious beliefs.
Witt is concerned that in the future, organizations holding those beliefs could get state contracts and be funded through tax dollars.
“We’ll basically take taxpayer money and use it to fund organizations that discriminate against taxpayers that are paying for these services,” Witt said.
The plan has the support of the head of the state’s child welfare agency, the Department for Children and Families.
That support comes months after Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel said she would have a “zero tolerance” policy for discrimination against LGBT couples in adoption and foster care.
In this case, Meier-Hummel said the changes could help attract more agencies to Kansas.
“This bill addresses possible barriers that may be keeping [child placing agencies] from coming to Kansas to work with DCF,” she said.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @KPRKoranda.