Can Religious Freedom Justify Discrimination in Child Placement?

Yesterday I concluded a post about the arc of the access to marriage debate by observing that the main argument against access to marriage right now seems to be one grounded in the assertion of freedom of religion.   This isn’t the only place freedom of religion crops up in opposition to lesbian/gay equality claims.   A I’ve noted in the past, you also see this when it comes to state-financed child placement services.   (There was a thoughtful analysis of this issue on my local NPR station recently.)

There’s a quite current incarnation of this struggle.   Virginia is about to enact legislation that would allow agencies that receive state funding to deny placements that conflict with religious or moral teaching.   Practically what this means is that agencies would be allowed to refuse placements to lesbian and gay people.  Discrimination of this sort would be permissible and that is justified on the grounds of an accommodation of religious freedom.

There’s a few things worth pointing out here.   What the Catholic agencies want is an exception to a general non-discrimination principle.  In general, the state cannot discriminate like this, but private actors are free to do so.   So it’s only if religiously affiliated agencies accept state funding that they need to comply with non-discrimination provisions in the first place.   The legislation allows them to accept funding and discriminate.

This issue has been very much bound up with the lesbian/gay rights culture wars., but it really transcends that.   The freedom to discriminate in the name of religion claim is a general one and that, I think, allows us to consider it in a different context–one that is no longer so wrought.

It was not so long ago that interracial marriage was criminal in Virginia.   (For history lesson, you could do worse than watch this movie, I guess.)   At the time, the opposition to interracial marriage was at least in part rooted in religion.  (You should see the quote the trial judge used to excuse the law.)   So imagine that there was a religion today that still viewed race mixing as sinful.   (There probably is one, actually.)

What would we say if a church-sponsored agency invoked the Virgina law to 1) take state funding but 2) deny placements with interracial couples.   What response would we have if they justified the discriminatory conduct as an exercise of freedom of religion?

I do not mean to ask this as a rhetorical question, exactly.   I ask it because I think it is a different way of thinking about whether religious freedom should justify discrimination.  Perhaps it should–but if it should, then it seems to me it has to justify all forms of discrimination, not just ones that are controversial.

Maybe this means I mis-titled this post.  Perhaps the question is “should religious freedom justify state-funded discrimination?”   I wonder (and worry) about how many people think the answer to that is “yes.”


8 responses to “Can Religious Freedom Justify Discrimination in Child Placement?

  1. Those who are religious should also be cognant of the fact that they should not enter into a job that may go against their religious beliefs or dogmas. Why is that so hard to understand for some people – their religious views preclude them from taking jobs in the first place that would compromise their religious beliefs. No one FORCED them to take that job and they should not have the right to mandate changes by their employer. This is such an obvious slippery slope they don’t want to go down. They fear “other” religious dogma’s so if they insist on allowances for them – they will also have to insist on allowances for those they seem to hate the most…slippery slope they will regret traversing.

    I know the federal funding rules prohibit discrimination but for state funding do they get a pass if they do not have a discrimination law? Is that how they are squirming around it?

    At the end of the day people need to grow up and make choices that don’t go against their religious dogma’s.

    What’s next a church run country?

  2. I think a private agency should be able to have whatever rules they want (and this doesn’t just come up with gay couples, some agencies won’t work with single people, or married heterosexual couples that aren’t a specific religion) but I don’t think they should receive state funding.

    • That’s the line drawn for agencies–whether you take money from the state. If you do not take state funding you have much wider latitude. But of course, it is tempting to many entities to take the state money.

  3. I believe a parent who surrendurs a child to adoption should be able to have the child placed with members of the same religion, if available this should be protected. of course, religious agencies might abuse this idea by having the parent scribble a signature on some form and use that to indicate that the parent chose that religion of their own initiative.

    • I think when you have an open adoption there are all sorts of different dynamics. Parents giving their children up for adoption pick the family from profiles that include all sorts of information and I don’t think anyone contests this right. The question is can the agency that prepares the book of profiles systematically exclude some sorts of people or couples.

  4. tbh I’m a Jewish adoptee glad to have had grounding in my authentic faith when adopted. Adoption is complicated enough.

  5. Wait but private businesses can’t discriminate and say we only hire sexy secretaries or we don’t hire black men or we don’t hire lesbian women. I worked at a gym a million years ago and I remember that some of our customers were complaining that we had a lot of lesbians on our staff and they felt like letting them in the dressing room was like letting men walk around in there. I don’t know why that story is germane other than it was freaking funny at the time. Point is private business can’t discriminate period. F their religions if their religions discriminate against people they need to shut their doors. Don’t want to let people of a certain color shop in your store? Wanna stand on religious principal? Good luck. What if there was a religion that believed in children not going to school so they could toil in the fields or sweatshops?

    See I don’t mind government interference when it is intended to obligate all people equally so that all people have equal rights. Its not ok for some people to discriminate against people of a particular orientation race gender whatever – anywhere, any time any place because if you let some people discriminate then your saying certain people can be discriminated against under certian circumstances. The criteria used to exclude someone has to be necessary for the performance of a job or necessary in some functional way other than personal preference of the employer – like only hiring leggy blonds as waitresses – (i think hooters gets around that by hiring models not waitresses and part of their modeling involves waitressing)

  6. If an agency discriminates they should not receive public funds since publish funds are collected via taxes and gay people pay taxes to. If an agency discriminates in the provision of a service funded by public funds gay people would be prevented from accessing a service they are helping to pay for through their taxes.

    With respect to an agency discriminating without accepting public funds that is their right to do so, however this principal can only be taken so far. For example if an agency is involved with the adoption of children for example the welfare of the child must take precedent over the adoption agencies religious views. It is not in the welfare of a child to linger in an orphanage or foster home when there are suitable parents willing to adopt them but the don’t meet the religious views of the agency. It is also not in the welfare of a child to be adopted by a parent who can’t support them when there are parents willing to adopt who can support, them just because said parents don’t meet the religious views of the agency. Therefore if your going to provide a public service like adoption regardless of whether your accept public funds or not an agency should not be permitted to violate certain standards in the name of religious freedom. If you can’t put the best interest of a child before your religious dogma than get out providing adoption services.

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