Foster Care Issue at Forefront of Religious Liberty in America

Foster care and the adoption of foster youth increasingly stand at the center of highly-charged religious liberty debates in America.  Our friend Stanley Carlson Theis leads the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA), and writes on these matters articulately.  Here are two excerpts from his latest publication.

Again: Faith-Based Adoption Agencies in Virginia Under Threat

Private adoption and foster-care agencies in Virginia, in recruiting families and placing children, may not discriminate based on race, color, and national origin.  The law allows individuals (gay or not) to adopt or be foster parents.  If a prospective foster or adoptive home has a married couple, the rules ask the agency to assess the strength of the marriage.  And the law allows a private faith-based agency to take account of religion in working with families–and does not forbid any agency from specializing in non-religious families.

These rules did not satisfy the previous administration (Tim Kaine, Democrat).  Instead, it sponsored a rewriting of the regulations to prohibit all private agencies from engaging in “discrimination” on the bases of “race, color, gender, national origin, age, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, or family status.”  No longer could there be any assessment of religion, or sexual behavior, or family formation.  The regulation would apply to all private adoption and foster care agencies, as a condition of licensing (i.e., whether or not they contracted with the state).

Faith-based agencies and others protested to the social service department when the comment period on the regulations was open, and they protested as well to the new governor (Republican Bob McDonnell).  The sweeping anti-discrimination rule was deleted.

But activists have now used a provision in the state’s rules about regulatory change to force the public comment period open again. They are hoping for a flood of comments demanding that the state forbid faith-based agencies from “discriminating” based on sexual orientation and religion in their foster care and adoption services, hoping to pressure the governor and the department to overturn the existing rules.  And yet it would be counterproductive to force faith-based agencies to close under the guise of expanding the pool of families that will accept foster or adoptive children!


Illinois Shoves Out Faith-Based Foster Care Organizations
The Illinois governor and the Department of Children and Family Services are insistent:  the state’s antidiscrimination rules concerning sexual orientation and marital/civil union status trump the state’s constitutional protections of religious freedom and the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is intended to protect the free exercise of religion.

First DCFS told Catholic Charities agencies that it would no longer contract with them to provide foster care services (a court temporarily stopped the withdrawal of contracts and then let DCFS go ahead–more court action is to follow).  And now DCFS has stripped the Evangelical Child and Family Agency of its contract to provide foster care services.  (Virtually all foster care services in the state are provided by contract with the state government.)

Why turn the foster care arrangements upside down, disrupting long-standing contractual relationships and the successful recruitment and placement records of these faith-based agencies?  Not because gay persons or civil-union partners in Illinois otherwise would be left out in the cold if they wanted to become qualified as foster care homes.  Everyone admits there are plenty of agencies more than happy to serve them.  No, the contracts had to be stripped because the government insists that no private agency should be allowed to exercise a faith-based conviction that it is best if a foster child is placed with a married mother-father family….  Such a conviction, to the government, expresses mere invidious discrimination and it cannot be tolerated.

It will take courageous legislators to craft a solution that enables the state to respect religious conviction in foster care services at the same time as it seeks to protect gay persons and couples from unjust discrimination.