ACLU Condemns Committee Passage of Florida Bill Allowing Agencies to Put Religious and Moral Beliefs over Children's Needs in Foster and Adoption Placements

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
March 19, 2015 2:50 pm

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TALLAHASSEE, FL – This morning, the Florida House of Representatives’ Health and Human Services Committee passed a bill that would allow private agencies that are contracted by the state to make foster and adoptive placements for children in the foster care system to deny families to children based on religious or moral objections to those families that have no relevance to their ability to care for a child.

The bill, PCB HHSC 15-03, also prevents the state from denying funding to private child placement agencies that refuse to make placements based on the best interests of the children if those placements conflict with the agency’s religious beliefs. The bill would also prohibit parents who are denied the adoption from seeking legal recourse. The committee members voted on a party-line 12-6 vote to pass the bill.

Responding to the vote, ACLU of Florida Director of Public Policy Michelle Richardson stated:

This bill would be a huge blow for the children languishing in Florida’s foster care system awaiting placement in loving, permanent homes. It would turn well-established child welfare law and practice on its head, allowing the interests of the agencies to trump the needs of the children for whom they are charged with caring.

When an agency receives tax dollars to find families for children in the child welfare system, it must place children in homes based on professional standards that protect the best interest of a child, not religious or moral criteria.

The right to religious liberty does not give agencies a right to get government contracts to place wards of the State in families and then refuse to do the job they agreed to do: make placements based on the best interests of the children. If this bill passes, an agency could refuse to place a child with the aunt he knows and loves because she is not of the same faith as the agency, or refuse to place a child with serious medical needs with a doctor with the skills to care for her because the doctor doesn’t follow the agency’s religious tenets.

Telling private agencies that they can deny children placements with qualified families based solely on the agency’s religious beliefs will keep all kinds of good parents in our diverse state from providing Florida’s neediest kids a family for any number of reasons: because they are of a different faith than the agency, they are divorced, they hunt, they are pro-life or pro-choice, or they are a same-sex couple.

Supporters of the bill say that families that are turned away could just go to another agency. That ignores those directly affected by this bill – the children. A five year old can’t say ‘please transfer me to another agency that will choose a family for me based on my needs, not theirs.’

We will continue to fight to ensure that unconstitutional discrimination doesn’t keep a child in need of a loving and permanent home from having a loving home.

The ACLU sent a letter to the members of the House Health and Human Services Committee warning of harmful consequences for children and that the bill is unconstitutional. A copy of the letter is available here:

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