How special interests use copy cat bills to peddle laws in your statehouses.
Patrick Shannahan, USA TODAY
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee bill that would allow adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples is part of a national effort by conservative Christian activists aimed at infusing religion into the public sphere.
Here’s an overview of that campaign and some other key things to know about the legislation, which passed in the Tennessee House of Representatives on Tuesday night.
Group wants to ‘bring back God to America’
This adoption bill is linked to the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation’s drive to pass state legislation advancing religious issues. The effort, called “Project Blitz,” includes a detailed handbook for state and local advocates to “bring back God to America.”
Similar adoption legislation has passed in several other states, including last year in both Kansas and Oklahoma. The lead sponsor of the Tennessee bill, Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, said his version was modeled after Virginia’s law.
Another example of legislation pushed by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation requires public schools to prominently display the motto “In God We Trust.” The Tennessee General Assembly passed a version of that law last year.
It doesn’t only apply to adoptions
The Tennessee legislation applies to all licensed “child-placing agencies,” which encompasses foster care, adoptions, group homes and other services.
Many private adoption agencies have no interaction with the state government, besides obtaining a license. They simply connect two private parties seeking an adoption.
But foster care agencies link prospective parents with children who are in state custody for reasons such as parental neglect and abuse. This bill would also apply to foster care organizations.
That means taxpayer dollars are involved
Foster care agencies are essentially contractors for the Department of Children’s Services, and are paid a daily rate depending on a child’s needs. If this legislation also passes in Tennessee’s Senate, then taxpayer-funded organizations would be able to exclude certain people based on the organizations’ written religious or moral beliefs.
As it stands today, all state contracts prohibit discrimination based on race, religion, and other protected classes. Sexual orientation, however, is not a protected class in Tennessee.
Some big businesses have questioned anti-gay politics in Tennessee
A handful of bills proposed this year are on the radar of several companies moving to Nashville and those considering expansion or relocation to Tennessee. They see the bills as discriminatory and potentially harmful to recruiting talented workers to the state.
Joe Woolley, CEO of the Nashville LGBT Chamber, said investment firm AllianceBernstein, Amazon and EY have been in touch with the chamber about state-level politics. Businesses often ask him whether the bills that concern them actually stand to be enacted, he said.
Jamie McGee of The Tennessean contributed to this report.
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