TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill that authorizes state-contracted child placement agencies to deny children in state custody foster or adoption placements if the placement would violate the agency’s “religious or moral convictions,” even if those placements are in the best interests of the child. The bill, HB 7111, passed on a 75 to 38 vote.
Responding to today’s vote, ACLU of Florida Public Policy Director Michelle Richardson stated:
“It’s official – the Florida House has put the ability of private agencies to discriminate ahead of the state’s important work of finding homes for our most vulnerable children. When agencies choose to accept public tax dollars to find families for children in the foster care system, they should be required to make placement decisions based on the best interests of the children, not the agencies’ religious beliefs. To allow the agencies’ willingness to discriminate to trump the needs of the children the State has hired them to care for not only shocks the conscience but is also unconstitutional. [pullquote]“The bill is clearly motivated by an animus towards the LGBT community, but the effects will be much broader. LGBT people, single or divorced people, interfaith couples, people of different faiths than the agencies, and others can be turned away from providing homes to children even if they are relatives of a child or if the parent would be the best-qualified by any child welfare standard. [/pullquote]
“The bill is clearly motivated by an animus towards the LGBT community, but the effects will be much broader. LGBT people, single or divorced people, interfaith couples, people of different faiths than the agencies, and others can be turned away from providing homes to children even if they are relatives of a child or if the parent would be the best-qualified by any child welfare standard.
“Like the Indiana law that caused such a backlash, this bill would authorize State sanctioned discrimination, but here, children would be the ones who bear the brunt of discrimination and taxpayers would foot the bill. The Florida House could not be more wrongheaded. Discrimination does not become legal simply because Florida legislators simply because Florida legislators declare that what an agency does isn’t discrimination.
“The kids in Florida’s foster care system waiting for a forever family deserve better than politicians who will let agencies place their own interests above the needs of the kids they serve. Hopefully, cooler heads in the Senate will listen to the outcry from child welfare groups saying this bill is harmful to children as well as the national backlash over bills in Indiana and elsewhere that would let religion serve as a license to discriminate.”
Yesterday, the House rejected a number of proposed amendments to HB 7111, including an amendment requiring that an agency’s decision to refuse make a placement “must be based on an individualized assessment of the best interests of the child,” and multiple amendments that would have explicitly banned discrimination based on various characteristics, including race, religion, national origin, and sexual orientation.
Also yesterday, Anthony Siegrist, a 16-year-old from Clearwater, Florida, shared the story of how he was adopted out of foster care by his mothers and his concern that the bill would have prevented him from finding his family, stating: “I am so thankful that this proposed law didn’t exist when I was waiting for a family to adopt me. I could have been denied the parents that I was clearly meant to have.” Anthony’s full story is available here: http://aclufl.org/?p=6515.
Language identical to HB 7111 was offered as an amendment to a larger adoption and child welfare reform bill on the Senate floor yesterday. The amendment failed without a recorded vote. HB 7111 will now be sent to the Senate.
[From a News Release]