Friday, June 12, 2015

New Legal Religious Discrimination in Michigan

Michigan's Governor Snyder signed a new set of discrimination laws yesterday.  "Senate Substitute for House Bill No. 4188" states:

"Private child placing agencies, including faith-based child placing agencies, have the right to free exercise of religion under both the state and federal constitutions.  Under well-settled principles of constitutional law, this right includes the freedom to abstain from conduct that conflicts with an agency's sincerely held religious beliefs."

Both faith-based and non-faith-based agencies receive government money.  Given the separation of church and state, it should be the case that agencies receiving federal or state money are not allowed to religiously discriminate in who they serve.  However, this separation has been eroded over the years in a multitude of ways, from President Bush's Faith-Based Initiative to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision. 

Even so, this is a new level of affront to freedom of religion.  Hobby Lobby isn't receiving government money to do its work.  It's a for-profit organization.  Adoption is a different sort of business.  Half of adoption agencies are faith-based in Michigan -- Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and the evangelical Bethany Christian Services. How much money are they receiving from the state?  Michigan Radio reports that it is "up to $10 thousand dollars a child." 

This is most notably an attack on same-sex couples.  The Catholics and Methodists both do not recognize same-sex marriage, and the president of Bethany Christian Services, William Blacquiere, has said, "At Bethany, we would never deny a family for their secular status, or single-parent, or anything of that nature. However, if the family would be in conflict with our religious beliefs, we would assist them to go to another agency."

Actually right now judges are stopped from granting two-parent same-sex adoptions already.  Same-sex parents who adopt usually end up with only one of them as the adoptive parent.  This is what started the court case that led to Michigan's challenge to the same-sex marriage ban.  And with a Supreme Court decision potentially changing the marriage equation, this might change, but right now this is the case.  So the religious right is getting ducks in a row to make sure that if you can get married in Michigan you can still be banned from adopting, denied housing, barred from public accommodations, and fired from your job the day after your wedding.  Seriously.  I do not exaggerate.  This is currently the case that all these forms of discrimination are legal, but our legislators are writing laws that ensure that they're not just legal by the default of having no legal protections from discrimination, but explicitly and purposefully legal.

However, it is not just same-sex couples who might be denied adoption.  So who else might conflict with the religious beliefs of these Christian organizations?
  • Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and any people of non-Christian faiths
  • Atheists, agnostics, and the unchurched
  • Single parents and unwed couples
It wasn't that long ago that people had religious objections to interracial marriage and interracial adoption.  Even that most abhorrent form of discrimination could be seen as legal with this new legislation. Our legislature has been hard at work lately making sure that their rights to discriminate are protected at every turn.  What they're worried about, it seems, is their freedom to hate, and what the corporations want. 

What's missing in all of this, of course, is what's best for the children. 

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