Andru Volinsky: Calling me a ‘religious bigot’ crosses the line

For the Monitor
Sunday, October 22, 2017

My votes and comments as an executive councilor representing District Two are motivated by what I think is right and best for my state, nothing more and nothing less.

While there is always room for spirited debate and a respectful exchange of ideas, Union Leader editorials that call me, or anyone else, a religious bigot cross the line.

Here is what prompted this latest Union Leader attack.

The Executive Council approved a $100,000 contract with Bethany Christian Services to provide faith-based recruitment and support services for adoptive and foster parents in New Hampshire. Bethany is a $60 million a year international religious service organization. It has a longstanding relationship with New Hampshire. The contract was approved by a 4-1 vote.

I voted against the contract because I was uncomfortable with assurances that Bethany would not discriminate against same-sex couples or single parents.

In June of this year and previously, Bethany made clear that it will not work directly with same-sex couples because it violates its religious tenets to do so.

In a letter from Bethany to the governor of Michigan supporting proposed legislation in 2015, the president of Bethany wrote: “We at Bethany are compelled by our faith to serve; and we adhere to the values and beliefs in our faith when serving.” The letter became public in the course of a pending federal lawsuit by the ACLU against the state of Michigan for contracting with agencies, such as Bethany, that discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Bethany confirmed that it refuses to work directly with same-sex couples due to its religious beliefs in an Associated Press article published on June 17. The AP article also points out that Texas and South Dakota allow state-funded agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds and that Congress is considering a similar bill on a national level.

This is the kind of legislation that was under consideration in 2015 when Bethany wrote to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. New Hampshire has not adopted similar legislation.

I do not oppose the state’s faith-based initiatives where those efforts do not promote discrimination. Gay and lesbian couples and qualified single individuals, however, have a right to be foster and adoptive parents. We should respect the commands of the First Amendment to separate church from state and, no matter what the Union Leader may write about me, I shall continue to try to follow the Constitution and do the right thing for the people of New Hampshire – all of the people of New Hampshire, regardless of their faith or their sexual orientation.

(Andru Volinsky of Concord is executive councilor for District Two.)