US Bishops Promote Bill To Ban States From Discriminating Against Religious Adoption And Foster Care Agencies

Joshua Gill | Religion Reporter

Leading members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops promoted a bill Friday that would prevent states from penalizing child welfare agencies for faith-based policies.

Chairmen of three USCCB committees sent a letter to the lead sponsors of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2019 in the Senate and the House of Representatives, commending the bill for its potential to protect religious freedoms and parental choice.

The bishops noted Catholic foster care and adoption agencies face the prospect of being forced out of business in states that offer no such protection. (RELATED: South Carolina Foster Care Agencies Win Fight To Practice Faith Without Endangering Their Funding)

“The act prevents the federal government and states that receive federal funds for child welfare services from excluding child welfare providers who believe that children deserve to be placed with a married mother and father,” the bishops’ letter reads, according to Crux Now.

“Women and men who want to place their children for adoption ought to be able to choose an agency that shares the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions. The Inclusion Act recognizes and respects this parental choice,” the letter adds.

The letter, addressed to Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate, and Republican Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, who introduced the bill to the House, also highlights the plight of Catholic child welfare agencies that face closure in California; Washington, D.C.; Massachusetts; and Illinois as a result of being denied state funding for operating according to faith-based policies.

Faith-based child welfare agencies are also facing litigation in Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania over their policies.

“In each of these places, religious agencies have been or are being driven out of offering adoption and foster care services due to their beliefs,” the letter reads.

An earlier version of the bill faced intense opposition from LGBT advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign in 2017 and died in committee in the Senate. The Human Rights Campaign argued allowing faith-based child welfare agencies to operate according to their beliefs and choose prospective parents according to religious criteria discriminated against same-sex couples.

“By denying LGBTQ families the ability to foster and adopt, children are denied the right to safe, happy, and healthy permanent homes,” the advocacy group said in 2017.

The closure of faith-based adoption agencies, however, has demonstrably hurt children in the care of welfare agencies. In Illinois, for instance, 3,000 foster children, which is equal to more than 20 percent of foster children in the state, were displaced by the closure of religious foster care agencies due to being denied funds over their faith-based policies.

Proponents of protection for faith-based agencies also argue such agencies provide much needed services in the face of a growing number of children entering the foster care system as a result of the opioid epidemic.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty signed the letter.

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