Editor’s note: This bill was signed into law by Gov. Lee on Friday, Jan. 24. The law takes effect immediately.
By Lonnie Wilkey
NASHVILLE — Tennessee state senators approved legislation on Jan. 14 that would prohibit the state from forcing Christian adoption agencies or other religious-based adoption agencies to place children in homes that would “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.”
Senate Bill 1304 passed the Senate by a margin of 20-6. Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville was the only Republican voting against the bill, joining the chamber’s five Democrats, according to an article in The Tennessean.
The bill will now go to Gov. Bill Lee for his signature, having passed the house last year by a 67-32 margin.
The bill was opposed by gay rights activist groups and those who felt the bill would have a negative financial impact on the state’s economy.
Dickerson, in speaking against the legislation, said passage of the bill could cause the state to suffer economic development and financial impact because of “bad public policy,” The Tennessean reported.
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, praised the legislation.
“I am thankful to live in a state where the governmental leadership respects religious liberty,” Davis said.
“This adoption bill recognizes the biblical values of Christian adoption agencies in Tennessee and provides a measure of protection as these values are exercised. I am confident that Gov. Lee will sign the bill into law,” he added.
Greg McCoy, president of Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes, supported the legislation even though TBCH “really does not have a dog in that fight because we don’t accept government funding.”
He noted the bill “does provide another layer of protection” for faith-based adoption agencies such as TBCH.
McCoy noted the law is not about denying the gay community the opportunity to adopt. The bill does not keep homosexuals from being involved in adoption but “protects faith-based adoption agencies from going against their beliefs,” he affirmed.
“We recruit evangelical Christians to serve on our foster care team. If you don’t accept the Bible as God’s authoritative word, we will refer you to another agency where you can be involved in foster care. If we were forced to go against our convictions, we would get out of the foster care business.”
In the state of Tennessee, people must serve as foster parents for six months before they can adopt, McCoy said.
The TBCH is a licensed adoption agency but focuses more on foster care, McCoy said. Last year, TBCH had 10 children adopted and “we probably will see more than 10 adoptions” this year, he added.
Though the TBCH does not receive government funds, they do place children from the Department of Children Services. “We have a no-cost contract with DCS. They do not pay us to place children. We are the only entity in Tennessee that does not charge the state for our services,” he said. “It actually saves the state money when they use our team.”
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention supported the legislation.
In Tennessee, faith-based agencies are a vital part of a comprehensive system designed to maximize the number of families available to help children in need of foster or adoptive homes,” observed Brent Leatherwood, director of strategic partnerships for the ERLC. “This law adds an additional layer of protection to ensure that remains the case,” he added.
Leatherwood also noted that in other places, groups have been pitted against one another to the detriment of children. “Thankfully, Tennessee isn’t going to do that. This legislation was a high priority for Southern Baptists. The ERLC engaged on this bill because it was based on the principle of freedom: the freedom for anyone to help children; the freedom for faith-based organizations, like the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes, to keep doing their good work consistent with their principles.”
According to The Tennessean, eight states across the country have passed similar legislation. The paper also reported it had contacted the governor’s office and received confirmation the governor “would be signing the bill as soon as it reaches his desk.” B&R