The three ‘red flags’ bills remind me of the “conscientious objection” legislation that have been continually popping up in Michigan over the last few years in both school and medical settings. Sponsors of these bills mainly argue that individuals and agencies should have the right to choose not to provide services to particular individuals if they have religious or moral objections. Opponents on the other hand often argue that this creates avenues for legal discrimination, mainly towards members of the LGBT community.
According to the House Fiscal Agency Analysis:
· House Bill 4928 would amend the Michigan Adoption Code (MCL 710.23b et al.) to specify that a child placing agency is not required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, facilitate, refer, or participate in a placement for adoption that violates its written religious or moral convictions or policies. (The Adoption Code is Chapter X of the Probate Code of 1939.)
Under the bill, a state or local government entity could not deny a child placing agency a grant, contract, or participation in a government program because of the agency's objection to performing, assisting, counseling, recommending, facilitating, referring, or participating in a placement that violates the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies. A child placement agency's refusal to so participate in a placement that violates its written religious policies would not constitute a determination that the proposed adoption is not in the best interests of the adoptee.
· House Bill 4927 would amend the Social Welfare Act (MCL 400.5a) by adding Section 5a to specify that the Department of Human Services could not consider a child placing agency's objections to placements based on the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies in any situation in which the department interacts with that child placing agency. This includes placement considerations, funding considerations, contracting considerations, or any other areas where the department must make a determination involving an agency.
Private agencies have the legal right to determine their own policies and standards of practice, but agencies receiving federal funding must be very careful to maintain the separation of church and state to maintain funding. These bills would exempt agencies from receiving penalties when practicing discriminating behaviors.
Many social workers are employed in adoption/foster care agencies across the state or work with youth and families that have navigated the adoptions/foster care system. The top priority for social workers should always for the well-being of the child and making sure their best interests are looked out for. Our professional Code of Ethics states, “social workers should not practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, or mental or physical disability (4.02)”.
There is an argument to be made that legislation like these being introduced is a direct conflict with the social work Code of Ethics. Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright, a social worker, sits on the committee and has been a voice of reason and has voiced her opposition to many aspects of the bills. HB 4928, HB 4927, and HB 4991 will now move on to the House for a vote.
There is much that can be done to improve our foster care and adoption systems in Michigan. Social workers need to have a pivotal role at creating this change. I hope that social workers will make their voices heard in the future hearings.
Duane Breijak, LLMSW