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Bill Allowing Religious, Moral Objections to Private Child Placements Advances After Change

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An Oklahoma House committee advanced Wednesday a controversial bill dealing with private child-placement agencies, but not without a substantial change.

Senate Bill 1140 allowed such agencies to refuse placements based on their sincerely held religious or moral beliefs. Rep. Leslie Osborn offered — and the committee accepted — an amendment making the bill apply to private agencies receiving neither federal nor state funding.

"If you are not using state and federal funds, it is absolutely your right to discriminate against any couple that you don’t think is morally sound, of the right color, the right religion, or the right ethnic or gender identities," Osborn said. "But if you are using state and federal dollars, I believe in the separation of church and state."

Rep. Kevin Calvey called Osborn's proposal "a bigoted amendment."

"This discriminates against Catholics, Baptists, Assemblies of God, Pentecostal Holiness and a whole host of other faith groups by relegating them to be second-class citizens when it comes to participating in public life," Calvey said.

Osborn said there are too many kids in state care to reject otherwise qualified families because an agency thinks the parents’ religion or sexual orientation is wrong.

"It’s absolutely ludicrous to say that this is bigoted when the absolute reason that I had to file it is because the legislation is bigoted," Osborn said.

SB1140 has drawn a lot of opposition, especially from Rep. Collin Walke. He offered 66 amendments to the bill, such as requiring lawmakers who vote for it to pay for defending it in court and forcing agencies to explain in writing precisely why they rejected a family.

Walke said religious freedom is important to him.

"But this bill is nothing more than the modern, 21st Century version of Jim Crow laws," Walke said.

None of Walke’s amendments passed. The amended bill now goes to the full House.