Last week, HRC and statewide pro-equality partners attended the Alabama Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee’s public hearing on Senate Bill 204 (S.B. 204), the “Alabama Child Care Provider Inclusion Act.”
Sponsored by Senator Paul Bussman of Cullman, the bill would enshrine special discrimination rights into Alabama law by allowing licensed, publicly funded child welfare agencies to disregard the best interests of the child, and reject prospective parents based solely on the agency's religious beliefs. Agencies could also use religion to discriminate in the provision of care to LGBT youth, who are already overrepresented in the foster care system.
HRC strongly opposes S.B. 204. While we affirm that religious freedom is incredibly important -- which is why we have such strong state and federal constitutional protections for religious belief -- we also believe that discrimination on the taxpayer’s dime is unacceptable. Alabamians’ taxpayer dollars should be going to ensure the best interest of Alabama’s children--which is for them to be placed with loving families.
To a packed room at Wednesday morning’s hearing, Scott McCoy, staff attorney with the LGBT Rights Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, testified before the committee to explain the laundry list of potential consequences this wide-ranging bill could have on Alabama’s families and children. One of these scenarios includes a child placement agency turning away a range of potential parents, including LGBT couples, interfaith couples and single parents, based on the agency’s religious beliefs.
Susan Watson, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alabama, highlighted in a hearing on a duplicate bill in the House, H.B. 158, that one of the cruelest consequences of these types of bills are that they would allow agencies to refuse to place foster children with members of their extended families. The refusal could happen based solely on the agency’s religious beliefs. An LGBT grandparent or relative for example, could be deemed unsuitable under the proposed law.
Rev. Daniel Strandlund, a Montgomery-based Episcopal priest, also spoke powerfully against the bill, receiving many “amens” from Senators Vivian Figures and Quinton Ross. Senators Ross and Figures, as well as Senator Hank Sanders, spoke against the bill in committee.
Add your voice to the chorus against S.B. 204 by contacting your Alabama Senator today. Tell your Senator that Alabama’s LGBT and allied community will not stand for state-sanctioned discrimination.
HRC will continue to work actively against S.B. 204 and H.B. 158, as well as all anti-LGBT bills introduced this legislative session.
To stay connected with HRC legislative efforts throughout the session, contact field organizer Tori Sisson at Tori.Sisson@hrc.org.
These bills are part of nearly 200 anti-LGBT bills across 32 states that have been introduced this year. For more information, visit: www.hrc.org/2016legislature.