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A committee in the Florida House passed a “conscience protection” bill that would allow private adoption agencies to choose not to work with those who conflict with their religious beliefs.

The bill, PCB HHSC 15-03, passed in the Florida House’s Health & Human Services Committee 12-6, split among Republicans and Democrats.

The chairman of the committee, Jason Brodeur, is a Republican representative from Sanford. He did not respond to an email request from SFGN for comment. He did speak with other newspapers and equated the bill to protecting religious institutions from having to conduct abortions and other procedures that conflict with their religious beliefs.

“In some states, private child-placement agencies who have served their communities for decades have had to stop providing adoption services due to a conflict between their religious beliefs and recognition by a state of same-sex marriages and certain anti-discrimination statutes,” Brodeur told the Tallahassee Democrat.

The bill would allow agencies to not “perform, assist in, recommend, consent to, or participate in any placement of a child when the proposed placement would violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies.” It also protects them from legal recourse should they refuse adoptions.

The Rev. Durrell Watkins of Sunshine Cathedral is both a leader in the religious and LGBT community and said that the law would “potentially keep children from having good homes.”

“I'm always very concerned when our prejudices, our fears, our phobias are wrapped in the words of religious values,” he said. “It also just reinforces discrimination, it reinforces oppression, it reinforces that values and bigotry are interchangeable.”

His church has liberal values and Watkins said that by one person wanting the civil government to enforce religious values, they wind up trampling on the values of another person.

“I shouldn't use the civil government to enforce my religious values,” the reverend said. “It's always an embarrassment in our history when people say, ‘My faith means I have to keep you from having the same rights that I have.’ That always comes back to shame us later on down the road.”

The ACLU of Florida is working to combat the bill, saying it is unconstitutional.

“This bill would be a huge blow for the children languishing in Florida’s foster care system awaiting placement in loving, permanent homes, said Michelle Richardson, the agency’s director of public policy. “Telling private agencies that they can deny children placements with qualified families based solely on the agency’s religious beliefs will keep all kinds of good parents in our diverse state from providing Florida’s neediest kids a family for any number of reasons: because they are of a different faith than the agency, they are divorced, they hunt, they are pro-life or pro-choice, or they are a same-sex couple.”

According to a spokeswoman from the Florida Department of Children and Families, there are about 750 children in the Sunshine State in need of forever homes.