In a strong endorsement of politics by pulpit, the Kansas legislature approved legislation that protects faith-based adoption agencies that cite “religious beliefs” for refusing to place children in LGBT homes.
The legislation, passed in the final days of the 2018 session, mirrors a bill recently approved by the Oklahoma House and Senate. Given the all-out scrambling at the close of recent legislative sessions, it’s doubtful that this adoption bill was written in Kansas just as its twin appeared in Oklahoma. The measures likely were scripted at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing think tank in Virginia that churns out legislation for rubber-stamping by Republican legislatures.
LGBT rights advocates had argued that the bill in Kansas – which Gov. Jeff Colyer has signed – sanctions discrimination and supports it with taxpayer dollars. Proponents of the new law said that without it, the specter of lawsuits or the emergence of more moderate state officials might lead to an environment hostile to the views of some religious groups.
The new legislation is a keen footnote for the state’s “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” of 2013; it allows citizens essentially to skirt state or local laws if their enforcement would violate a “sincerely-held religious tenet or belief.”
What counts as a religious tenet or belief remains as vague as any threat to them. Is a Bible study group under menace by the speed limit, or a ban on shoplifting? From there the perplexity spreads. In Colorado and Oregon, a scuffle began when a baker – who called himself an artist, claiming freedom of expression – refused to provide a wedding cake for a gay couple. The courts ruled that religion is no excuse for discrimination; this inspired campaigns for state laws to set stronger ground rules for discrimination by religion.
Religious “freedom” serves far more than those offended by gays, lesbians, or transgenders. It includes parents who may have unusual rites in child-rearing, inter-sibling marriage, or the number of wives a husband can own; pharmacists who have a problem with certain medications and birth control; employers who object to providing insurance coverage for employees, or at least that part that includes birth control; hospitals, under religious ownership and facing conflicts in medical ethics; physicians who may not reveal treatment options for critically ill patients, if those options include procedures to limit or end the ability to reproduce.
Does religious “freedom” permit an employer to reject a job applicant because of the applicant’s religious or political preference? Or to place orphans only in homes that pass a sexual preference test? It’s not a big leap to the matter of religious preference alone, or to the question of skin color.
Kansas and Oklahoma are the 7th and 8th states to allow discrimination by faith-based adoption agencies. And Kansas is among more than two dozen states that have enacted laws permitting discrimination based on religious “belief.” The legislation in some states is pared to lessen the risk of challenge, leaving a modified form of discrimination on the books. After all, there is time for a more radical approach later, after the next election. Skin color and religious preference can wait.
This is how we arrive at disaster, by permitting the slight- est right to discriminate and excused with the cosmetics of certain “freedoms.” But over centuries, man has repeatedly discovered shackles beneath the veneer of false promise. The masking of freedom to choose as a religious “freedom” through statute is a package at cross-purpose. Both proclaim liberty while forcing on citizens the doctrine of exclusionary holiness.
‒ JOHN MARSHALL