Several states across the country have taken steps in recent weeks to provide greater protection for the religious freedom of their citizens. Both South Dakota and Kentucky have successfully passed state bills to defend the rights of religious groups and individuals, while similar legislation is also moving forward in Texas and Georgia.
Earlier this month, South Dakota’s legislature passed a law that protects adoption agencies from being shut down because they believe children ought to be placed in households with a mother and a father. North Dakota, Michigan, and Virginia have all enacted similar religious exceptions; however, South Dakota is the first state to do so since the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling in 2015.
The LGBTQ community has predictably come out very forcefully against the law, arguing the religious exemption is an attack on their rights, despite the fact that nothing in the law prevents gay adoptions or foster care — it simply permits adoption agencies to recruit good families within their own religious traditions. Nevertheless, Human Rights Campaign’s legal director claims that the governor’s decision to sign the bill into law “signals the potential of a dark new reality for the fight for LGBTQ rights,” and the ACLU is threatening litigation to overturn the law.
Fortunately, many lawmakers in other states are refusing to be intimidated by these tactics. In Georgia, for example, the legislature plans to include similar provisions in a bill to modernize its adoption laws. Language being added to the bill would protect private adoption agencies that receive state money from being forced to place children in LGBTQ households. However, Governor Nathan Deal has voiced his opposition to the bill, meaning he could veto it upon passage in the state legislature.
Texas is also trying to pass a similar bill, which will allow faith-based groups to follow their religious beliefs when placing children and prevent them from being coerced into providing referrals for abortions. State Rep. James Frank, the author of the bill, says it is intended to give “reasonable accommodations” to faith-based groups, not to be exclusionary — but this has done little to assuage the bill’s LGBTQ opposition.
Finally, the fight for religious liberty saw another win in Kentucky when Governor Matt Bevin signed into law a bill on March 16th to protect religious expression in schools. Among other things, the legislation demands schools provide equal access to religious and nonreligious organizations and prevents student groups from being forced to admit members who disagree with the groups’ principles.
While the dangers to religious liberty in this country are still greater than ever, these recent successes may offer some hope to conservatives that progress can still be made to protect Americans’ first freedom.
Photo credit: American Life League via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0