New SD Law Protects Religious Freedom of Private Child-Placement Agencies

By Nancy Flory Published on March 16, 2017

South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard on Friday signed into law a bill that protects the religious freedom of private child-placement agencies that won’t place children with unmarried or same-sex couples in violation of their beliefs.

Daugaard said that he believed the bill would protect private adoption agencies from lawsuits against policies based on their religious beliefs, reported the Argus Leader.

“I’m worried that a child placement agency may make what is in the best interest of the child a correct decision but be subject to a lawsuit by someone who has a little bit of a leg up by virtue of being in a protective class,” said the governor. “And if we can forestall that with this legislation then I’m willing to do that.”

Bill 149 provides that:

No child-placement agency may be required to provide any service that conflicts with, or provide any service under circumstances that conflict with any sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction of the child-placement agency that shall be contained in a written policy, statement of faith, or other document adhered to by a child-placement agency.

It forbids the state government from acting against a child placement agency that declines to provide a service that conflicts with its religious or moral convictions. The state also can’t enter into a contract with an agency that conflicts with its convictions.

Without Fear of Being Sued

The Human Rights Campaign, a pro-LGBTQ activist group, claims that “These children could now wait longer to be placed in a safe, loving home at the whim of an [sic] state-funded adoption or foster care agency with a vendetta against LGBTQ couples, mixed-faith couples or interracial couples — all while being taxpayer-funded.” It called Bill 149 the “right to discriminate bill.”

However, SB No. 149, Sec. 15 specifically states that another child-placement agency can provide the services those covered by the bill decline to provide and “shall not be a factor in determining whether a placement in connection with the service is in the best interest of the child.”

Daugaard wants to place as many children as possible and hopes the new law will allow religious and faith-based child-placement agencies to operate without fear of being sued. “Whether it’s the state acting directly or through an agency, we need to do everything we can to encourage those agencies to stay in this business and help us find those placements.”

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