Bill allowing faith-based groups to reject some adoption, foster care applicants clears Tennessee House after heated debate

Tennessee state Rep. Jeremy Faison

NASHVILLE - The Tennessee House on Monday approved a bill allowing faith-based groups to reject placement of a child for foster care or adoption with persons who "would violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies."

Representatives voted 67-22 for the bill that LGBTQ advocates charge is intended to let the organizations discriminate against them as well as others.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, said the bill is limited to the "extent allowable by federal law" and is aimed at preventing agencies from being punished by the state when rejecting an application based on their written "moral or religious philosophies."

During the heated floor debate, opponents focused largely on religion.

Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, said he took the bill "personally" as an adoptive parent, questioning whether it would allow a faith-based group to reject an application from a Jewish family.

He said many couples seek to adopt or seek to become foster parents after "probably years of infertility." Mitch questioned why anyone should be allowed to "hide behind their moral convictions just to deny somebody's opportunity to raise a child."

"We shouldn't give anyone the right to discriminate against anyone," Mitchell said.

Replied Rudd: "That's not in this bill."

The lawmaker said the bill stipulates two things, one being "to the extent allowed by federal law." The other is the group must have a written policy stating the organization's philosophy or moral holdings.

Faith-based organizations have "been sued to the point of driving them out of business," Rudd said, adding the bill is "just codifying what the Supreme Court has said."

Mitchell countered that "I just think we're giving a license to discriminate."

Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, said he's heard the "liberal side" for years "demand to be inclusive and I applaud that."

But he said liberal opponents to bills such as Rudd's are sending a signal that "I will be tolerant of you as long as I agree with you."

"You're not giving me the right or the privilege to think differently from you," Faison said.

Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, warned in a statement after the vote that if the bill becomes law, "same-sex couples, people of various religious beliefs, and people with no religious beliefs now face the prospect of being turned away from adoption agencies that they helped fund because they are labelled morally or religiously objectionable."

That will result in "children and youth with longer wait times for permanent homes," Sanders added. "This is truly a case of adding insult to injury, which explains why a federal court recently ruled that Michigan state funds cannot be used for discriminatory purposes in child placement."

A Senate version of the bill is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The legislation is House Bill B836 and Senate Bill 1304.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.