Oklahoma Faith Leaders lend support for adoption protection

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma’s Catholic bishops joined leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma recently in support of Senate Bill 1140. The bill provides protection for faith-based adoption services that are desperately needed to reduce the number of children waiting to be matched with loving families (https://legiscan.com/OK/text/SB1140/2018).
S.B. 1140, authored by Sen. Greg Treat, mirrors similar laws recently passed in Virginia, Michigan, South Dakota, Texas and elsewhere. Oklahoma has a statutory environment that discourages new adoption services to open, speci´Čücally faith-based agencies. Many would-be agencies have reported that they fear potential religious discrimination and lawsuits that may come from a future state administration.

In states like Massachusetts, Illinois, California and the District of Columbia, faith-based agencies have been forced to close after new regulations were promulgated that would have mandated changes to their adoption criteria in violation of their religious principles.
“In Oklahoma, there are many adoptive parents eagerly waiting for the opportunity to adopt and ultimately raise a child. Part of the problem is we lack a sufficient number of agencies to provide and handle the adoptions,” said The Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City.
“I applaud Sen. Treat’s leadership on SB 1140, which will encourage new adoption services and provide important protections for faith-based adoption agencies.”

Carla Hinton, writing for The Oklahoman newspaper, reported that leaders of Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption Services also backed the measure  (http://m.newsok.com/article/5586543/faith-leaders-voice-support-for-adoption-bill). A release from the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma asserted that “contrary to opposing rhetoric in recent days, the bill does not change current practice for adoption agencies. Sen. Treat’s measure simply codifies the long-standing practice of faith-based agencies adhering to adoption practices that are consistent with their mission.”

“As Oklahoma Baptists, we want to voice our strong support of Senate Bill 1140, which we believe is necessary to protect the religious liberty of faith-based adoption providers in Oklahoma,” said Dr. Hance Dilbeck, Executive Director-Treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “Faith-based organizations have been on the leading edge of providing hope and good homes for children in need of adoption or foster care.
“This legislation will undoubtedly draw opposition and overreaction from some, including those who may claim this would hinder same-sex couples or others from adopting. Yet, we all recognize that same-sex couples are afforded the opportunity to adopt in all 50 states. This proposed policy only would ensure that groups cannot compel faith-based organizations to act against their consciences and statements of faith.”

The Most Rev. David Konderla, Bishop of Tulsa, added, “Some faith-based agencies are reluctant to open their doors without the legal protections that Sen. Treat’s bill offers. We welcome these protections and the ultimate flourishing of new adoption agencies in Oklahoma.”
This past year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled organizations that receive state funds or other support cannot be denied the right to exercise their religious mission. Sen. Treat’s bill will enshrine that decision in Oklahoma statute.

According to a story in The Pioneer (student campus newspaper at Oklahoma City Community College), “Troy Stevenson, the executive director for Freedom Oklahoma, an LGBT advocacy group, said he was completely against the bill.” 
Stevenson was quoted, saying, “There are over 9,000 kids without homes in Oklahoma,” and that taxpayer dollars would be used to pay agencies who discriminate. 
The bill passed out of Senate committee. It then cleared the full Senate 35-9 with strong Republican support and the backing of two Democrats. It now has gone to the House of Representatives for consideration. 
Rep. Travis Dunlap, R-Bartlesville, is the House author of the measure.
NOTE: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.