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God Help the Orphans

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The Michigan House of Representatives is considering two bills that would allow religious-based adoption organizations to discriminate based on religious beliefs. My politics colleague Dan Calabrese wrote on how the bills protect religious freedom and concludes that "discrimination in adoption is a good thing."

Never mind the constitutional questions surrounding tax-exempt religious entities ability to discriminate -- suggesting that religious-based adoption agencies should use their religious beliefs to determine the placement of orphaned children has a number of other issues as well.

While there obviously needs to be a set of standards that individuals and couples must meet, Dan and others view this through a narrow prism where Christians are the only group affected. Some Christians have been opposed to the creation of Islamic mosques across the country, so just imagine the outrage when an Islamic adoption agency not only gets a tax exemption but then places children born to Christians in Islamic homes. Or race-based agencies that refuse to let white couples adopt outside of their ethnic background.

Where do we draw the line?

Gay couples can't adopt but straights can? How about Jews? Can these agencies use their religious beliefs to deny adoptions to Asians, Hispanics and African Americans? Do you have to attend church a certain number of days to be deemed a suitable adoptive parent? If so, how many? What if you are overweight? That is a sin in the eyes of God. The same is true of adulterers and those who are greedy or too prideful. At what point does religious freedom become unquestioned bigotry?

But maybe more important to this debate is the fact that adoption agencies are intermediaries in this process. They do not own these children. They are not a "Honk if you love Jesus" bumper sticker that acts as an extension of the church. They are human beings who deserve better than being used as a sectarian pawn to catechize us on Christine doctrine.

Perhaps a couple who spends their Sunday morning reading The New York Times instead of going to church -- but devoted to giving their adopted Asian child a true sense of their heritage -- offer a superior upbringing for some children. Perhaps a child with Islamic roots would feel more at home in a Muslim household than a Christian one. Perhaps homosexual children would have a better upbringing in a home that doesn't tell them every day that God hates them. Perhaps it's more important to protect the religious freedom of these children than those of an inanimate organization.

The goal of any adoption agency should be to place children in homes that give them the best opportunity in life. I understand that many Christians probably believe that, regardless of the child, being raised to embrace Jesus Christ as their lord and savior gives every person this opportunity. But assuming your organization's secular ideology sets the moral compass for every child smacks of the very sin of pride that might make you an unqualified adoptive parent under this legislation.

Previously published in the Detroit News.