Doing A Hard Thing In Order To Stop A Bad Thing
Sometimes you have to do something you don’t want to do.
That is the predicament our good friend, Senator Donald McEachin, is in with regard to SB 349. And he is joined by another good friend, Senator Adam Ebbin, and several others.
As originally introduced, SB 349 was intended to “protect” faith-based agencies engaged in adoption from being “forced” to place children in adoptive homes of lesbian or gay Virginians. That was bad enough.
But as often happens when a majority gets geared up and thinks it can do just about anything, this bad bill has become a true nightmare.
I call it the Child Endangerment Act.
SB 349 no longer applies only to faith-based agencies. The bill now applies to all private licensed agencies.
SB 349 no longer applies only to adoption. It now applies to foster care as well—children who are wards of the state and under the state’s direct protection.
SB 349 contains the broadest immunity clause I think I have ever seen—the language protects any private agency providing foster care and adoption services from “any claim for damages” based on what they say are morally (see below) or religiously motivated child placement decisions (thanks to Equality Virginia for making this point very strongly).
SB 349 may pre-empt state laws and licensing rules now in effect, such as the rule that foster parents must agree not to use corporal punishment. (again, thank you, Equality Virginia)
SB 349 sets new criteria for agencies to base their decisions—not only religious views but also moral convictions. The only requirement seems to be that the criteria must be written. They need not have a basis in any religion.
So, this far-reaching bill must be stopped, or at least limited. We cannot stand by and let thousands of Virginia children be placed at risk—all to satisfy the desire of some to continue to receive state dollars for child care but no state oversight to make sure the children are safe. And we have to try to protect ALL children and ALL families.
Thus, Senators McEachin and Ebbin, and their allies in the State Senate, find themselves in the awkward position of having to offer amendments that contradict their own beliefs. For example, they will offer an amendment to limit the bill’s effect to faith-based agencies. Neither of them support this idea, but they do want to do two things: get the bill’s supporters on record as to whether they really only want to protect these agencies or if they seek to do more under the guise of protecting these agencies, and second, if all else fails, to limit the effect of this bad bill.
It is a hard call, but sometimes you have to do something you don’t want to do in order to stop something worse.
People of faith—all faiths—know about this conundrum. We often face having to live deeply held convictions in a world where many follow other paths, and we have to navigate complex situations.
For me, the most provocative example in modern times is the participation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a plot to kill Hitler. An avowed pacifist, Bonhoeffer realized that his belief that Hitler needed to be stopped before more were killed required him to act, even against his own deeply held moral principles.
This situation, of course, does not rise to that level, and yet, putting children at this kind of risk is serious, indeed I find it unconscionable. This bill was originally tagged as “Conscience Clause” legislation—to allow religious beliefs to trump public policy.
To be clear, I do not support that approach, even narrowly defined, because the only criteria that anyone should use in the placement of children is “the best interest of the child.” Senators Ebbin and McEachin each offered bills to do that. They were killed in committee, and this bill, SB 349, by Senator McWaters was approved by the Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee on an 8-7 vote last Friday. As the committee reworked the bill, it became this monstrosity.
There is no conscience in it, as far as I can see—only a desire to let private agencies do whatever they want with our children.
We must stop this, before it is too late. Call your Senator now!
And when you can, drop Senators McEachin and Ebbin a line and thank them. They deserve our praise for doing hard things in order to stop a really bad thing.
Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline is President of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, an interfaith organization of gay and straight clergy and lay people working for equality for LGBT Virginians. Read more of his thoughts on faith and spirituality on his personal blog.
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