Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Next Religious Freedom Bill Controversy, Could It Be In Florida?

After the public backlash that arose from the Religious Freedom law in both the states of Indiana and Arkansas yet another state is seeking to create similar designed policy into their state laws. Recently, the House of Representatives in the Florida legislature passed a bill that would allow private adoption agencies to turn away gay couples on moral and religious grounds. The vote passed the House by a margin of 75-38. This bill was a response by Conservatives to an effort last month by the House to “to take an unenforced gay adoption ban out of state law”.
            The bill, according to conservative republicans, “wasn't about discrimination, and said gay couples would still have dozens of agencies — state agencies and those not faith-based, for example — that didn't object to gay adoptive parents”. However, those on the other side of the room saw this bill as something completely different. Referring to the same intentions that the Religious Freedom laws of Indiana and Arkansas, Democrats saw this bill as a way to legalize the discrimination of homosexuals based on religious grounds. “‘When we come in and we start using scripture to begin to discriminate against individuals, I have a problem with that,’ said Democrat Rep. Shevrin Jones of Broward County. ‘Yes, protect the religious institution, but I say to those religious institutions as a man of faith, if it’s your ministry, do your ministry and take care of the children’”.
            There is very little reason to think that this bill will be passed by the Senate next week. The main reason for this assumption is that the Senate already voted down a bill that would have struck the gay adoption ban from state law. The language between the two bills is too similar and will meet similar ends.
            The issue that is brought to the forefront with this bill is whether free exercise of religion under the 1st Amendment is being further protected with this law. As we have seen in class, the Supreme Court has taken the approach of disallowing certain policies which would be discriminatory towards religious freedom of exercise. The best example would be Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah. While this Supreme Court decision dealt with an animal sacrifice due to religious preferences, it established a certain precedent in the Court. This precedent became that without a compelling state interest and a narrowly tailored response, the state cannot impose restrictions on an individual’s religious preferences.
            For the Florida bill, the state understands that the compelling state interest is to protect private adoption agencies from being denied free exercise of religion through disallowing them to deny gay couples adoption privileges. On the face, the bill would create a law which protects religious freedom of exercise. However, the underlying tone is that of discrimination against certain individuals based on religious grounds. It is due to this understanding that the bill should be seen as unconstitutional.
            The Free Exercise Clause should be protected as long as the exercise being committed does not discriminate or harm the rights of others. So if I made the claim that I would refuse to provide a service to those of Islamic faith because their code of conduct under Sharia law does not coincide with the guidelines laid out by the Ten Commandments, I would have committed a breach of the Free Exercise Clause. The same must apply towards homosexual couples being denied the ability to adopt children from private agencies due to the agency’s religious ideals. These laws in Indiana, Florida, and Arkansas have illustrated that discrimination has found a new tool in order to accomplish its goals. This tool is the Free Exercise Clause. The rational for this clause has taken on a vastly different meaning then from its original intentions. As such, our society needs to reaffirm this meaning through action by the Supreme Court to strike down laws such as these if they come to existence. Through established precedent, laws such as this Florida bill would never get the hour of time on the floor of the House to even be discussed.
            Through not only the proposed Florida bill but the Religious Freedom laws in Arkansas and Indiana, do you think that the idea of free exercise of religion could begin to lose its original intention and instead be used as a tool for discrimination based on religious grounds? If so, do you believe there is any way to resolve this conflict?



Mackenzie Y said...

If the adoption agency is a religiously based organization, I believe that the bill is completely valid in allowing the agency to choose who gets to adopt a child based on their religious beliefs. I understand the concerns with the bill and additionally why it may not pass the Senate, but I believe that as a concept the idea behind the bill is sound. I think that it is more important to consider the burden that would be imposed on the adoption agency by letting a family whose beliefs they don’t agree with adopt a child, as opposed to the burden that would be opposed on gay couples who would simply be able to find a different adoption agency that is not religiously based.

Alex L. said...

I agree with Mackenzie above in that we must not make the religiously affiliated adoption organization act against its beliefs. Same-sex couples have other organizations including state-run agencies where they could adopt children. I am not too familiar with the criteria for adoption but could imagine that Jewish perspective parents could be turned away from adopting a Catholic orphan because their views are not the same as the child's or the orphanage housing the child. In my eyes there is nothing wrong with this.