Decried As Discriminatory, Protections For Religious Adoption Agencies Passed By Kansas Legislature

May 4, 2018
Originally published on May 14, 2018 12:31 pm

The Kansas Legislature has narrowly approved a controversial measure allowing faith-based adoption and foster care agencies in Kansas to be reimbursed by the state for placement services, even if they turn away prospective parents who don’t fit their religious beliefs.

The bill that includes the provisions constituting the “Adoption Protection Act” passed the House shortly before midnight Thursday with the bare minimum 63 votes in favor with 58 against. The Senate followed suit a couple hours later on a 24-15 vote. In a statement, Gov. Jeff Colyer said he would sign it.

Opponents argued the religious protections would open the door to state-sponsored discrimination, particularly against same-sex couples, but also single people and minorities.

“Christian slaveholders used the Bible and their strongly or sincerely held religious beliefs to justify slavery,” said Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Democrat from Lawrence.  

Proponents contend the measure will keep more adoption agencies in Kansas at a time when more than 7,000 children are awaiting permanent homes. Department For Children And Families Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel endorsed the measure.

“Some might allege this bill would perpetuate discrimination, and nothing could be further from the truth,” said Rep. Susan Humphries, the Wichita Republican who sponsored the measure. “This bill simply ensures that all providers can stay in the field and continue to serve children, unafraid of government censorship”.

Humphries described the religious protections as “preemptive,” enabling faith-based placement agencies to weather lawsuits and withstand changes in state leadership.

The Oklahoma Legislature passed similar legislation hours before Kansas lawmakers took their votes Thursday.

Catholic Charities, which operates in Kansas, testified in support of the measure. The organization stopped offering adoption services in Massachusetts to avoid having to facilitate adoptions by same-sex couples there.

The Family Policy Alliance also lobbied for the Kansas bill, and it won a last-minute endorsement from Kansans For Life, the leading anti-abortion group in the state.

“Passage of the Adoption Protection Act means that more, rather than fewer, groups, will be able to assist in facilitating adoption, and that will result in fewer babies being aborted,” Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life said in a released statement.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, showed up at the statehouse last week to speak against the religious exemption, and took out full-page ads in state newspapers reading, “Keep Kansas Open To All.” TechNet, a network of large technology companies including Apple and Google, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the bill.

The Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce also voiced its opposition to the bill.

“If we become a state that is shown to discriminate, how easy is it going to be for us to go out and recruit new talent, and retain them once we get them here ?” said NEJC president Deb Settle. “If they’re originally from Kansas, how are we going to keep them here, if we’re a state that’s showing discrimination?”

The debate threatened to torpedo long-needed updates to Kansas adoption law contained in the underlying bill — updates including a change to say “married couples” can adopt, rather than “husband and wife.” Earlier this session, the House rejected the original version of the religious protection measure, subsequently added to the adoption bill as an amendment.

The bill squeaked through with a compromise clarifying that the religious exemptions would only apply to foster care and adoption services, and not anything else that a faith-based agency might provide, like health care or housing.

For Rep. John Carmichael, the House Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, the refined language didn’t make the bill any more defensible.

“If you allow people to use state dollars in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs, for the purpose of discriminating against another religion … based on sincerely held religious beliefs, that shreds the purpose of the first amendment,” Carmichael said. “I cannot countenance that.”

At present, and under the bill, child placement agencies that refuse to place children with same-sex couples, single parents, or non-Christians, still get state reimbursement for the services they provide on behalf of a DCF contractor.

The state’s two case management contractors that handle most foster care and adoption placements – currently KVC Kansas and St. Francis Community Services – are excluded from the protections. Those contractors must serve all prospective foster parents and adoptive families referred to them by under DCF’s “no eject, no reject” policy.

Madeline Fox is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @maddycfox.

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