Governor Doug Ducey draws polarizing nursing home Adoption Act calls for religious freedom

A new law in Arizona allows faith-based care and adoption agencies to reject expectant parents based on their religious views without fear of a lawsuit.

There has been widespread criticism of the law, including from opponents who say the new law will make it harder for some parents to pass, amid a massive backlog of care cases. The law could, as a minimum, make it possible to dilute the pool of adoptive parents, precisely when the state needs them most.

This is a particular concern among Jewish and LGBTQ families in rural areas. This is because the Jewish and LGBTQ communities historically adopt at higher prices than other groups, and because the only rural adoption agencies in Arizona are run exclusively by Protestant organizations.

Jewish parents adopt at higher rates than any other religious group, with more than 5 percent of Jewish families adopting a child, according to The National Jewish Population Survey. Jewish parents are almost three times as likely to adopt compared to the general American population.

A 2020 report from the Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles showed that LGBTQ parents are seven times more likely to raise an adopted child, with nearly 15 percent of same-sex couples going the adoption route.

Some Jewish and LGBTQ community groups fear that adoption agencies, strengthened by the new legal immunity, will refuse to place foster children in such homes.

But the numbers do not match the outrage, leading proponents of the law to argue that the setback is more rooted in emotions than hard facts. Similarly, there is also no evidence of a widespread problem with agencies being sued.

State-approved adoption agencies place about four out of every five adoptions. Most of these agencies are supported by taxpayers, more than any other state.

Only a quarter of these agencies are faith-based, and they addressed 20 percent of Arizona adoptions in 2019. It is unclear exactly how many children are placed by faith-based agencies.

A search of state-wide legal documents did not reveal a single lawsuit about religious discrimination against any of Arizona’s faith-based Christian nursing home licensing agencies.

Still, Senate Bill 1399, signed by Governor Doug Ducey in the law earlier this month, was carried by an influential Christian anti-LGBTQ lawmaker who wanted to protect owners of faith-based care and adoption services from lawsuits stemming from past anti-discrimination statutes.

In 2015, Ducey promised to be “unapologetic pro-adoption” when he rejected a policy that prevented same-sex couples from adopting or becoming foster parents. Ducey was adopted as a child.

This new law prohibits anyone, including the state government, from taking legal action against a person or group who “refuses to provide adoption or care services based on a religious belief or practice of religion,” which raises concerns for some if Ducey keeps his promise. .

Arizona State Senator Sine Kerr, a Republican from Buckeye who sponsored the legislation, believes she helps ensure the government “does not discriminate against faith-based care and adoption agencies and keeps children’s needs first,” she said in a statement. Tweet March 31st.

But her track record with the LGBTQ community is in doubt as to whether there are ulterior motives.

Kerr opposes allowing biological men who identify as transgender to play on women’s sports teams and opposes adding “sexual orientation,” “gender identity” or “gender expression” to the protected classes in Arizona’s law on non-discrimination.

Meanwhile, she supports the protection of a parent’s right to seek professional counseling for their minor child with same-sex attraction or gender identity issues to help them achieve the desired outcome. She also supports protecting companies from being required to provide services to LGBTQ individuals, according to a 2021 study by Tucson-based LGBTQ law firm Stonewall Democrats of Arizona.

It is difficult for same-sex couples to get behind the new law in the midst of a “crisis” in the care system.

Washington, DC-based LGBTQ political lobby organization Human Rights Campaign tweeted two days before Ducey signed the bill that it “would impose barriers on LGBTQ families wishing to foster or adopt.”

This comes as the care system faces enormous strain in Arizona.

Arizona is home to the ninth most foster children in any state, according to the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation’s data center. There are close to five children in foster care for each licensed foster family, according to the Arizona Department of Child Safety.

DCS also reports that about 3,000 licensed foster families are charged with caring for nearly 14,000 foster children in Arizona, a drop of more than 1,600 licensed families since 2017.

“We desperately need nursing homes,” said Bahney Dedolph, deputy director of the Arizona Council of Human Service Providers, a Phoenix-based legislative action group advocating for foster families. “We can not afford to reject any family that is interested in being authorized to provide care.”

Proponents fear that the new law will dilute the pool of potential adoptive parents in Grand Canyon State and make it harder to find homes for the huge number of displaced children.

“The idea of ​​having religious freedom to discriminate against other religions seems like a strange perversion,” said Phoenix Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz. Phoenix New Times. “The most important thing is that children are placed in the best homes, not the most Christian homes.”

Five percent of practicing Christians in the United States have adopted a child, according to Ventura, the California-based research clearinghouse Barna Group, which states that it has developed “one of the nation’s most comprehensive databases of spiritual indicators.” The think tank found that Christians are more than twice as likely to adopt compared to the general American population.

However, My Jewish Learning, a nonprofit organization in New York City, reported that more than 5 percent of Jewish families have adopted a child. There is not a single Jewish authorized agency in Arizona.

Child protection attorneys are also concerned that the new Arizona law violates the rights the state offers children to practice their own religion separately from their foster parents.

“It violates the child’s right to practice the faith they choose,” Dedolph said. “It also violates the biological family’s right to raise their children the way they choose.”

From 2021, only every fifth child in the foster family is waiting to be adopted. The rest are expected to be reunited with their biological families eventually.

For most foster children, the goal is to reunite the biological family within 12 months, said Molly Dunn, director of child welfare and juvenile justice policy at the Phoenix-based nonprofit Children’s Action Alliance. It is typically designed to be a temporary scheme, as biological parents deal with imprisonment, medical conditions, or other short-term complications.

“We should not require children to learn and observe different religious principles when the goal is to reunite them with these families,” Dunn said. “The foster family should respect the biological family’s desire to provide their child with a particular religious or non-religious experience.”

In Tennessee and South Carolina, adoptive parents have sued after being blocked from adopting on religious grounds. And the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the idea of ​​a general exemption for faith-based organizations to use religious criteria to discriminate against potential foster families.

But the effects of Arizona’s adoption legislation may not be as dramatic as some warn.

In Arizona, 85 percent of adoptions are facilitated through a public, taxpayer-funded adoption agency, according to a 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The cabinet-level department has not set up public and private adoption numbers at the state-by-state level since then.

That percentage is higher than any other state.

But the vast majority are not rooted in conservative Christian values.

Of Arizona’s 25 licensing agencies, only six are faith-based. These six agencies accounted for just over 20 percent of adoptions in Arizona in 2019, according to figures reported by those agencies compared to the latest total adoption figures reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Arizona Department of Child Safety does not report how many children have been placed by faith-based agencies.

Arizona’s 19 secular employment agencies are gathered in Phoenix and Tucson. Self-reported figures show that these agencies largely place fewer children than their faith-based counterparts, which is often the only option for placement in rural parts of the state.

In Coconino County, for example, Arizona Baptist Children’s Services is the only local agency that offers regular adoption services.

The Center for Arizona Policy, a nonprofit conservative Christian lobby group based in Phoenix that advocates the latest legislation, says the new law will help overwhelmed foster parents in Arizona.

“In a time of critical shortage of eligible foster parents, Arizona will now encourage families of faith, not discourage them from opening their homes to children in need,” said the organization’s president, Cathi Herrod. New Times.

“By ensuring that the government does not discriminate against faith-based care and adoption agencies, the new law expands the pool of qualified parents because they excel at recruiting adoptive and foster parents from their own faith communities, including special needs and children who are hard to place. “said Herrod.

She noted that non-Christian parents can avoid disappointment by first working with a secular placement agency.

The new law enters into force on 22 July.

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