It’s a worn out story, almost a cliché lately, that once again in the great state of Oklahoma government officials are attempting to use their status as such to force their religious beliefs on everyone else. This time, in an act of self-righteous avarice, they are pushing them on abused, orphaned and/or neglected children.
House Bill 2428 will create the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion. This is a partisan bill written by Republicans Sally Kern and Josh Brecheen which will effectively allow child welfare workers to deny a couple from adopting a child based on said welfare worker’s personal religious beliefs.
The exact phrasing of the most recent amendment to this bill says, “the state, including any agency, department, commission or board, shall not refuse to contract or enter into an agreement with a child welfare service provider on the basis that the provider has declined or will decline to provide, facilitate or refer for a child welfare service that conflicts with, or under circumstances that conflict with, the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions which are clearly expressed in the mission statement, articles of organization or certificate of incorporation of the provider.”
The wording of this is clever. The state is not necessarily encouraging that foster care decisions be made based on religious beliefs. They are simply saying that if they were, the state could not do anything to stop it. By framing the argument in this way they are trying to skirt around the “separation of church and state,” argument.
Let’s assume for a moment that it actually works. If after signing this bill into law the state were to have a change of heart and say, “no we don’t think it’s right that you said that Islamic couple couldn’t be foster parents because you don’t agree with them religiously,” the bill already has provisions for that as well.
The bill says, “A child welfare service provider aggrieved by a violation of Section 3 of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2016 may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a civil action and obtain all appropriate relief, including declaratory relief, injunctive relief and compensatory damages with respect to that violation.”
To translate the legalese, if the state attempts to intervene in a welfare provider’s decision to deny service on religious grounds, the welfare provider could potentially be compensated for damages the intervention had on them providing service, but will never face judgement for the damages they might cause to gay or Muslim families and children in need of a home because they “didn’t feel right about it.”
In order to be fair to the “something just doesn’t feel right” argument, there might be cases in which people could lie about their intentions and deceive a child welfare worker and the only information that person might have to contradict them would be an uneasy feeling telling them something wasn’t right about the situation. But even in an extreme circumstance like that a welfare worker could simply stall the process for years with constant investigations until they find out what exactly is so off-putting about the person applying to be a foster parent.
Essentially this bill would make discrimination against families for religious reasons easier and allow child welfare workers to avoid the due diligence they should be doing anyway by giving them an easy veto. In the meantime it would cause more children to go without good homes based solely on one person’s religious belief that the home wasn’t good enough for them.
Now remember that argument we were assuming actually worked? It doesn’t. Child Welfare Workers are employees of the state, therefore their actions would be the state acting for religious reasons, making this entire bill unconstitutional. For me this raised an interesting question. Why does Oklahoma continually try to write bills into law that are obviously unconstitutional and they know will be shot down by the federal court?
It’s political. These aren’t dumb politicians; they know exactly what they are doing.
They write a bill they know their super-religious and conservative constituents will want, even though they are completely aware that it will never pass muster on the federal level, and when the federal government tells them no, they get to come home and tell their constituents, “sorry, we did everything we could, but you know how those liberals in Washington are!”
So once again, Oklahoma politicians attempt to curry favor by using backwards and unjust laws at the expense of the national reputation of the people of Oklahoma.