NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A civil rights group is raising questions about the legality of a Tennessee proposal that would assure continued taxpayer funding of faith-based foster care and adoption agencies even if they exclude LGBT families and others based on religious beliefs.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee on Tuesday sent a letter to Gov. Bill Lee urging him not to sign the legislation currently awaiting his signature.
Lee, a Republican, promised to sign the bill because he believed protecting the religious liberty “is very important.” The Republican has often cited his Christian faith throughout his first term as governor.
Supporters argue such measures are needed to protect against potential lawsuits hostile to the group’s religious beliefs. However, critics counter that the proposals attack LGBT rights and limit the number of qualified families seeking to adopt or foster needy children.
“Laws like HB 836 are not only damaging to children; they also unconstitutionally infringe on religious liberty,” write Executive Director Hedy Weinberg. “While their supporters claim they advance religious liberty, they do the opposite by authorizing the use of a religious test to participate in a government program.”
Weinberg warned that the ACLU has already sued two states over similar anti-LGBT adoption laws.
In Michigan, the ACLU's lawsuit resulted in a settlement requiring the state to no longer turn away LGBT couples or individuals because of religious objections. In South Carolina, the lawsuit is still ongoing.
“No agency is required to accept tax dollars to provide this critically important government service,” Weinberg wrote. “But when they choose to do so, child placing agencies must put the interests of the children first, and they must not impose religious requirements on individuals seeking to participate in this government program.”
The bill has sparked backlash from Democrats and businesses, who say the proposal will damage Tennessee's reputation.
Most recently, retail giant Amazon came out against the legislation. The company is building a new facility expected to create 5,000 jobs over the next seven years.
“Amazon does not support this legislation. We have a long history of supporting equality and we’re opposed to laws that discriminate or encourage discrimination," the company said.
Meanwhile, Nashville council members approved a resolution Tuesday evening also encouraging Lee to veto the legislation. Council members said they hoped it would send a message that Tennessee is a welcoming place.