I spent most of last weekend standing outside the local movie theater holding whips, chains and rope, trying to impress women coming out of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” With this kind of bustling social life, I doubt that anyone would consider me good and proper foster-parent material.

Still, I’ve been thinking about the foster care system in Kansas ever since I read about a proposed law made by Kansas State Senator Forrest Knox, a Republican who represents the area immediately west of Chanute. I don’t usually keep close track of what our state legislators are doing, because I’m too busy covering the antics of City and County Commissioners and those running for these positions. Occasionally though, a legislator from this area will come up with an idea so ridiculous that I can’t help but give it some attention.

Knox pulled this off when he proposed the creation of a special category for foster parents distinguished by a faithful heterosexual marriage of more than seven years, no use of tobacco or liquor in the home, and regular church attendance. Those who meet this criteria would qualify for more state benefits and would be more exempt from oversight than foster parents who don’t fall into these categories.

Knox himself has several foster children, which makes him a bit of a hero in my eyes. There are a lot of kids out there in bad situations who need homes, so it’s difficult to too heavily criticize anyone who is willing to take on such a challenge and try to address this need. However, someone like him, who so closely understands the need to find good families for these kids, should not be taking steps to unnecessarily narrow the parameters of who society considers a good, fit and proper foster parent.

The first thing that struck me as odd about Knox’s proposal was that any Republican in the state would actively discourage adults from drinking and smoking, when the GOP Governor is depending on taxes resulting from these behaviors to balance the budget. If foster parents start giving up cigarettes and alcohol as a result of this legislation, that will just impede Brownback’s efforts to carry out this economic plan.

Also, no government in a country that is based upon freedom of religion should have a preference about whether or not people go to church. That should be entirely up to the individual. Churches should not be chosen by people just to make a government official happy.

I am not sure how exactly Knox proposes to find out whether a couple is actually faithful or not. Or whether either partner in a relationship might actually be gay. Or whether they go to church or drink or smoke. I’m not sure if Knox thinks there’s some kind of test that can be given to measure whether these types of behaviors are regularly engaged in, or if he expects this to be accurately self-reported by people. I guess he could have state inspectors stop by those homes on Saturday night to make sure neither parent is drunk or cheating or both, or on Sunday morning to make sure they’re in church. I can’t imagine these visits by the morality police would encourage too many people to want to be foster parents.

It is enlightening to take a look at who would or wouldn’t qualify as a proper foster parent, according to the criteria put forward by Knox. In my readings of the New Testament, Jesus was a lifelong bachelor who didn’t regularly attend organized religious services, and liked to publicly liven up wedding parties by turning water into wine. Jesus seems like the type of guy who would rather spend Sunday morning fishing with 12 of His buddies than putting on a tie and attending church services. This alcohol use, non-marriage, and avoidance of church means that Jesus would not have met Knox’s definition for inclusion in this special category of foster parents.

There are notable figures who have regularly attended church services, who stayed married for a while, and who publicly abstained from drinking and smoking, like Fred Phelps and the BTK killer. Any proposed system that would declare these people more fit to raise children than Jesus should probably be avoided.

It should be recognized that being married, going to church and avoiding vices doesn’t automatically make someone a good human being, and it certainly isn’t criteria for making them a good parent. Some of the best parents and best people I know smoke, drink, and don’t regularly attend church. There are people who are gay or who have a little trouble staying faithful to their romantic partners who would and could still be great foster parents for kids who need a home. Empathy for children, discipline, and a capacity for love can come from people of all walks of life, with all personal preferences and kinds of beliefs. Perhaps, if our elected representatives would acknowledge this fact, instead of being such morally-minded busybodies, we could find good homes for all the kids in the foster care system.

Please send all questions, comments, hate mail, marriage proposals, or invitations to attend the next showing of “Fifty Shades of Grey” to brian@chanute.com.

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