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Editorial: Protect liberties of adoption agencies

The Detroit News

The state House late last week passed a package of bills that would allow faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to choose not to work with couples that are gay, unmarried, or threaten the “sincerely held religious beliefs” of the agencies.

These agencies offer an important service and deserve the additional protections. The legislation also shines light on the challenges of state-funded faith-based groups.

These House bills would protect the right of these private, non-profit organizations to hold and practice their own beliefs. However, organizations that accept substantial state and federal funding should also defer to the highest non-discriminatory standards under state and federal law, as do other private institutions that take taxpayer dollars.

In budget year 2014-15, almost $20 million in state and federal funds went to adoption agencies. About half of that money — nearly $10 million — went to the faith-based agencies that would be exempt under the religious objection bills.

That means close to half the state’s funding for adoption support goes to the approximately 25 percent of adoption agencies in the state that are faith-based.

Faith-based organizations and adoption agencies care for and ultimately place children into stable and nurturing families. And if the state didn’t partner with them, it would have to pick up those caseloads and spend additional funds to do so.

But the organizations’ reliance on state funding compromises what would otherwise be a clear constitutional right for them to operate strictly according to their own beliefs.

The Michigan Catholic Conference says adoption agencies elsewhere in the country have been forced to close because government regulations “violate their institutional conscience.”

The conference and sponsoring Michigan representatives argue this law would therefore protect the most placement options for children in Michigan by keeping centers open.

Rep. Eric Leutheuser, R-Hillsdale, a sponsor, says the bill package would prevent “conflicts of interest” and promotes “mutual respect.”

In Michigan, 14,000 kids are in foster care — 3,000 of those awaiting formal adoption, and they desperately need families. The state must protect the religious beliefs of adoption organizations, but it also can’t lose sight of the goal — which is to place every child in a stable home.

Fortunately, the bills specify the faith-based groups should redirect those prospective parents to other adoption services in the state, and there are dozens of groups that will provide placement services to gay couples or others looking to adopt.

The bills now face the state Senate and governor’s desk at a time when politics in the state is largely focused on the budget and upcoming road funding ballot initiative. Gov. Rick Snyder hasn’t indicated his position on the adoption bill package.

But as long as these organizations are private and gay parents have other alternatives, the agencies should be able to operate according to their religious beliefs.