Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Protecting Oklahoma’s Christian adoption agencies

First Amendment | A bill allowing religious groups to operate freely faces an uncertain future in the deeply conservative state
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 4/17/18, 02:54 pm

Oklahoma state lawmakers last week crippled a bill providing legal protection for religious adoption and foster care agencies that do not place children with same-sex couples. State Rep. Travis Dunlap, a Republican who co-authored the bill, hopes to scrub the unexpected changes before sending the measure to Gov. Mary Fallin, also a Republican. If Dunlap fails, the state likely will lose Christian agencies and churches that have played an integral role in reforming the state’s troubled foster care system.

During an April 12 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Collin Walke, a Democrat, introduced almost 70 amendments in an attempt to delay or derail the bill’s passage to the House for a floor vote. Committee Chairman Rep. Chris Kannady limited Walke to only four amendments. All failed. But an amendment by Rep. Leslie Osborn, a Republican, altered the language of the bill to prohibit any agency receiving state or federal funds from acting on its “religious or moral convictions.” Both the amendment and the final bill passed 13-6. Osborn, after rendering the bill ineffective, voted against it.

SB 1140 passed the Senate and has until April 26 to clear the House. Dunlap plans to offer an amendment undoing Osborn’s language and restoring the bill’s original intent. It should pass the House, Dunlap said, but he doesn’t know whether Fallin will sign it.

Sen. Greg Treat, a Republican, introduced the bill in February, modeling it after Virginia’s protective law. About six states have similar measures, but one faces a legal challenge that threatens them all.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in September challenging Michigan’s bill, claiming it discriminates against gay and lesbian prospective foster or adoptive parents. An ACLU win could force Michigan to repeal its law, jeopardizing other states’ measures.

Without the new protections, Michigan agencies like Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Charities have said they would consider closing to avoid squandering money intended for children on lawsuits filed by LGBT activists.

Despite the animus toward faith-based agencies that do not serve same-sex clients, retaining all agencies that partner with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services is essential to maintaining effective reforms taking place in the state’s foster and adoption care system, Treat said.

In 2012, Oklahoma privatized its foster and adoption recruitment, training, and placement, moving those efforts from the Department of Human Services to existing private adoption agencies. Since then, new child welfare agencies have opened, and the number of children in the foster care system has dropped from 11,500 in 2015 to 8,600 today, Treat told me.

Churches, in particular, stepped up to work with the state to facilitate reforms.

“Without them we would be in a much bigger world of hurt,” Treat said.

SB 1140 says faith-based agencies cannot be forced to participate in placements that violate their written religious or moral convictions. It also prohibits government entities from denying grants or contracts to those agencies. And their policies based on their religion “shall not form the basis of a civil action.”

Osborn’s amendment added “receiving neither federal nor state funds” after every mention of “agency” to change the bill’s meaning, leaving child welfare ministries at the ACLU’s mercy.

Facebook Facebook Kristan Ware

Nothing to cheer about

For oddly similar reasons, two professional cheerleaders filed employment complaints against their former teams and the National Football League. One cheerleader complained about employment rules that got her fired after she posted a photo of herself in a “lace body suit,” while the other said coworkers and coaches mocked her for her Christian beliefs.

When Miami Dolphins cheerleaders discussed amongst themselves what music they played while having sex, Kristan Ware had little to add to the 2015 conversation. Ware told her fellow cheerleaders she was a virgin waiting until marriage to have sex. That set off a series of hostile and disparaging encounters within the squad, according to a report in the Miami Herald.

Ware’s complaint, filed last Thursday, asks for a hearing with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss why the workplace environment became so toxic that she did not try out for a fourth and final year with the squad.

Former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis also wants a meeting with Goodell. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming workplace discrimination based on sex. Squad rules restrict cheerleaders from promoting themselves on social media, while players “have the freedom to post whatever they want,” Davis told NPR. —B.P.

Facebook Facebook Popular conservative vloggers Diamond and Silk meet President Donald Trump at the White House.

Diamond and Silk take on Facebook

When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced questions on Capitol Hill last week about his company’s private data breaches, some legislators wanted answers to a different question: “What is unsafe about two black women supporting President Donald J. Trump?”

Sister vloggers Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, better known as Diamond and Silk, complained in September that Facebook used algorithms to intentionally target their conservative platform, reducing their reach to their 1.5 million followers. In an April 6 response to their complaint, Facebook notified the sisters that their “content was considered unsafe to the community.”

Lawmakers used the sister’s high-profile grievance to accuse Facebook and other social media platforms of muting or even censoring conservative content. In a different hearing, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate’s lone African-American Republican, called Facebook’s action “discrimination”—based not on race but the conservative content of their videos.

“Facebook’s support of freedom of speech only seems to include liberal speech,” Scott said.

Two days after the hearing, Diamond and Silk received an email response from Facebook thanking them for “giving us the opportunity to apologize. We look forward to speaking with you about your concerns.” —B.P.

FFRF: We’re not that kind of atheist

The American Atheists fired president David Silverman last week following accusations of sexual misconduct. The board of directors affirmed its commitment to “creating and maintaining an environment that is safe and welcoming to all” but did not comment on the moral foundation of their principled response.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to claim the moral high ground, Freedom from Religion Foundation co-president Annie Gaylor said Silverman’s alleged conduct only feeds stereotypes of nonbelievers. “Freethought” leadership must be “irreproachable in our person conduct,” she said.

Gaylor tried to distance the FFRF’s form of atheism from Silverman’s “highly aggressive brand” rooted in the virulent atheism of his group’s founder, Madalyn Murray O’Hair. But does threatening to sue a small town Ohio school for allowing a pastor to address the Fellowship of Christian Athletes during lunch really give FFRF the moral high ground? —B.P.

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Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie is a correspondent for WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and the University of Texas School of Journalism. Bonnie resides with her family in League City, Texas.

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