Conflict Embedded in Youth Runaway Bill

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee approved two bills aimed at combatting human trafficking in the United States.  While highlighting these bills, a recent New York Times editorial lamented that a third bill, Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (S. 262), was stalled and “[o]ne obstacle was the resistance of some Republicans to its nondiscrimination provision guaranteeing fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths.”  Unfortunately, this claim does a disservice to the debate about this legislation.

The actual text of the clause in question would apply much more broadly than simply to the care of youth in need.  Senator Leahy’s legislation would forbid “discrimination” on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation in the administration of any program authorized in any way under the bill.  In fact, it would expand that requirement to “any other program or activity funded in whole or in part with amounts appropriated for grants, cooperative agreements, or other assistance administered by the Administration for Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services.”  Thus, not only could this perhaps create problems for faith-based organizations seeking to employ individuals that share their religious values as they reach out to runaway youth, but also it possibly could affect a number of groups that desire to partner with the federal government in abstinence education, adoption, fatherhood, refugee, and other programs under the large jurisdiction of the Administration for Children and Families.

In an article highlighting the dangers of this far-reaching clause, Stanley Carlson-Thies, head of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, stated that this “language… goes far beyond prohibiting providers of services from discriminating against young people who need help. It reaches into the private organizations themselves, applying its sweeping nondiscrimination requirements to their internal operations, all of a sudden prohibiting them from engaging in otherwise legal and long-standing practices.”

NRB will be monitoring this bill, particularly since Senator Leahy has declared his intention to offer it as an amendment when other anti-trafficking legislation comes to the Senate Floor.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: March 6, 2015

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