- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas lawmakers are considering legislation that would prevent the state from forcing faith-based adoption agencies to place children into homes that violate their religious beliefs. Critics predict the bill would lead to discrimination against would-be LGBT parents.

Two identical bills, each dubbed the Adoption Protection Act , are under consideration in House and Senate committees, and each panel finished two days of hearings Wednesday. The bills would allow faith-based agencies contracting with the Department of Children and Families to deny adoptions to applicants based on sexual orientation or gender identity without fear of punishment from the state.

Republican Rep. Susan Humphries of Wichita co-sponsors the bill and said a primary purpose behind it is to get Kansas a step ahead of potential lawsuits that have been filed against faith-based agencies in other states.

“In some states just the threat of legal action has caused agencies to shut down because they can’t afford to fight the battle,” said Austin Vincent, a Topeka attorney who supports the bill.

Tom Witt, lobbyist for the LGBT-rights group Equality Kansas, said the bill would allow private entities to receive taxpayer dollars even as they discriminate against same sex Kansans.

“These private agencies want to turn families away that don’t meet their religious definition of what a family is,” Witt said. “In other words, Jesus told them we’re not good enough.”

The bill says its provisions would not apply to current contracts between adoption agencies and DCF, but Witt said those contracts will soon expire.

DCF contracts directly with two of the state’s 31 licensed adoption agencies, KVC Behavioral Health Care and Saint Francis Community Services, but others help place abused and neglected children in state foster care into adoptive homes.

Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel told both committees in written testimony that the department supports the bill, even though she also has publicly pledged to legislators that DCF will not discriminate against same-sex couples.

Supporters of the bill said it is not intended to limit anyone’s rights but to help guarantee religious freedom for faith-based agencies and those who seek them out.

“This is not a bill that adds burdens,” Humphries said. “This is a bill that takes them away.”

Meier-Hummel said the lack of protections for faith-based groups may keep some adoption agencies from coming to Kansas.

Other supporters said rejecting the bill will increase the load on Kansas’ already overburdened foster care system by potentially reducing adoptions. If faith-based institutions have to choose between violating their religious beliefs or shutting down, they will likely choose the latter. If they don’t choose to shut down, litigation brought against them will force it, Vincent said.

Several states have passed similar legislation, recently including Alabama, South Dakota and Texas. Despite the new Texas law, two female Texas A&M; professors sued in February , alleging they were turned away from adopting refugee children on religious grounds from an agency receiving public funds.

In other parts of the country, the American Civil Liberties Union has taken adoption agencies to court over similar policies. ACLU of Kansas says it would be willing to do so as well.

“This act is an effort to try and limit the constitutional protections for LGBTQ people as much as possible,” Vignesh Ganapathy, ACLU of Kansas policy director, said in an interview. “It will open up the possibility of significant litigation as they try and determine what counts as a sincerely held religious belief.”

Ganapathy said the bill would put an agency’s faith before its function of doing what is best for the individual child.

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