South Dakota joins states to allow taxpayer-funded child placement agencies practice their religion

By: Alexsis Beltran

South Dakota just joined Michigan, North Dakota and Virginia to enact law granting faith-based organizations the right to refuse placing children in certain households based on their religious or moral convictions. (https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-usa/2017/03/11/south-dakota-governor-sign-religious-adoption-protections/) Having signed the bill, Dennis Daugaard becomes the first governor to enact an anti-LGBT law in the U.S. this year. (http://www.towleroad.com/2017/03/south-dakota-religious-freedom/)

Senate Bill 149, passed the Republican-controlled South Dakota House by a vote of 43-20-7 this past week, and the party’s South Dakota Senate by a vote of 22-12 last month. (http://www.washingtonblade.com/2017/03/03/anti-lgbt-adoption-bill-sent-south-dakota-governor/)

The fact is that many child placement agencies are faith-based organizations and this law breaks the distinction between religious agencies or other affiliates. (https://www.washingtonblade.com/2017/03/10/s-d-governors-signs-first-anti-lgbt-law-2017/)

The overwhelming support for such a measure in the state’s legislature has escalated the social issue long-planted in the LGBT community and activists refuse to remain silent.

“In the past, Gov. Daugaard has opposed discriminatory legislation, including an anti-transgender bill that lawmakers pushed through the legislature last year, which he later vetoed,” said Matt McTighe, executive director of Freedom for All Americans. “We hope he will show the same courage for South Dakota’s LGBT community and those children in desperate need of loving and safe homes.” (http://www.washingtonblade.com/2017/03/03/anti-lgbt-adoption-bill-sent-south-dakota-governor/)

“These children could now wait longer to be placed in a safe, loving home at the whim of a state-funded adoption or foster care agency with a vendetta against LGBTQ couples, mixed-faith couples or interracial couples — all while being taxpayer-funded,” said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. (http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/south-dakota-becomes-first-us-state-pass-anti-lgbt-legislation-2017/#gs.aCTAsCQ)

American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota Policy Director Elizabeth A. Skarin condemned the governor, saying “This law directly affects the hundreds of children in South Dakota awaiting their forever families – and those children deserve better from our state leaders.” (http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/south-dakota-becomes-first-us-state-pass-anti-lgbt-legislation-2017/#gs.aCTAsCQ)

In addition to LGBT people, this law discriminates interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced. (http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/south-dakota-becomes-first-us-state-pass-anti-lgbt-legislation-2017/#gs.aCTAsCQ)

Republican state Sen. Alan Solano, who sponsored the bill, expresses deep concerns for the well-being of faith-based child placement agencies. Solano argues that such agencies are subject to the possibility of halting adoption services as organizations in California, Illinois, Washington D.C, and Massachusetts did after those states enacted marriage equality. (https://mic.com/articles/170877/south-dakota-law-protects-adoption-agencies-that-reject-lgbtq-couples-on-religious-grounds#.zJb9dNkSW)

Before signing the bill, the Republican governor paid respect to the supporters of this measure who argue that child placement agencies acting in the best interest of a child could be subject to a lawsuit when denying placement to someone in the LGBT community. (https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/south-dakota/articles/2017-03-10/daugaard-plans-to-sign-religious-foster-agency-protections)

Jim Kinyon, executive director of South Dakota’s Catholic Social Services, has said that the legislation denudated the barriers already in place in faith-based organizations for their “sincerely held” beliefs. (https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-usa/2017/03/11/south-dakota-governor-sign-religious-adoption-protections/)

A precedent is already cemented in our nation. Legislators in Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma are considering similar bills and only time will tell whether the lawmakers accomplish that goal. (https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/south-dakota/articles/2017-03-10/daugaard-plans-to-sign-religious-foster-agency-protections)

The National Council for Adoption (NCFA), an advocacy organization for children, birth parents and adoptive families based in Alexandria, Va., issued a report that found the overall number of adoptions has declined since 2007; the last year the number of American adoptions were counted by the NCFA. (http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2017/03/02/adoption-by-the-numbers/) Interestingly, most of this decline is attributed to a 75% decrease in the number of international adoptions, falling to 5,647 in 2015. (http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2017/03/02/adoption-by-the-numbers/)

The number of children waiting to be adopted from these child placement agencies continues to grow. (http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2017/03/02/adoption-by-the-numbers/) Many of these children are there due to parental abuse or neglect. Children are a financial burden and economic issues are reasons to not want a child. Not every couple is equipped with the financial stability and emotional well-being needed to satisfy the needs of a child and the South Dakota law may exclude a couple that has the needed tools.

Should religious or moral convictions be reasons to decide whether to place a child with gay or single parents that can provide the needs of the child? The South Dakota law’s woes are real and drive the need for a call to action.

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