by Jorge Gomez • 4 min read
Earlier this month, the president’s administration once again made religious freedom a priority.
It proposed a new Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule that would allow faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to receive federal funding and continue to provide services according to their religious beliefs.
This action couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time, given that November is National Adoption Month, specially set aside to raise awareness about the urgent need for adoptive families for children and youth in foster care.
Of course, this is just the latest example of the many positive policy steps for religious organizations that have been implemented at the federal level.
However, adoption and foster organizations at the state level are still fighting grueling court battles just so they can operate consistently with their faith.
In multiple cases across the country, we see enemies of religious freedom putting these agencies in the untenable position of choosing between their deeply-held beliefs…or being shut down altogether.
The New York Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) targeted the religious adoption nonprofit, New Hope Family Services, because it put into place policies consistent with its faith and prioritized placing children in homes with a married mother and father.
In addition to adoptive placement, New Hope operates as a pregnancy resource center and a temporary-foster-placement agency. The nonprofit accepts no government funding and, besides the fees paid by adoptive parents, funds its ministry through support from churches, individual donors and private grants.
Though New Hope brings essential services to its community, state bureaucrats described the agency’s policies as “discriminatory and impermissible,” even though it respectfully refers couples to other providers and has faced no formal complaints from prospective parents.
In a blatant display of anti-faith bigotry, the OCFS gave New Hope an ultimatum: revises its policy to conform to the state-approved orthodoxy or submit a close-out plan for its adoption program.
The case to stop New York officials from closing New Hope’s doors is currently being fought at the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.
Similarly, the Michigan provider, Bethany Christian Services, had to go to court because it opted to keep their adoption standards aligned with their beliefs. The ACLU sued them, claiming that it was engaging in discrimination against same-sex couples wishing to adopt.
But Bethany wasn’t just facing attacks from external activists. Earlier this year, the Michigan attorney general declared that adoption agencies contracting with the state could no longer decline to work with LGBT parents based on a religious objection.
In response, Bethany accommodated its policies rather than close down and completely forfeit the opportunity to serve the thousands of children in the state’s foster care system.
Meanwhile, another Michigan-based adoption organization, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, recently fought the state’s mandate and won a critical victory in district court.
Thankfully, the court ruled that Michigan’s attorney general discriminated against and wrongly used the law to cancel St. Vincent’s contract with the state because of their religious beliefs.
While a significant victory, St. Vincent’s litigation is still pending and it could very likely proceed to the appellate court level.
Last year, the City of Philadelphia issued a restriction requiring faith-based agencies to place children with same-sex couples. When Catholic Social Services (CSS) refused to comply, it lost its contract with the city.
In a twist of irony, the city had to put out a public, urgent call for new foster families to assist the 6,000 children in Philadelphia’s foster care system since it could not find enough homes on its own.
CSS took the matter to district court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals asking them to stop the city’s new policies. When both courts refused to grant them an exception to the municipal mandate, CSS’s attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
Today, more than 400,000 American children live in foster care rescued from the kind of abuse or neglect most of us can (thankfully) only imagine.
With the urgent need for more foster care and adoption services throughout the country, shutting down trusted and successful faith-based partners like Catholic Social Services and the others mentioned just because of their religious beliefs is bad policy.
The underlying issue here isn’t really about denying same-sex couples the opportunity to foster children. It is, however, about another kind of discrimination—the kind that coerces people of faith into having to conform to state-approved cultural norms at expense of their rights to free speech and religious freedom.
People of faith in America deserve better. Hopefully, by turning to the U.S. Supreme Court, these agencies can win a decisive victory that will ensure that Americans don’t have to check their religious beliefs at the door in order to care for the most vulnerable among us.
When churches, ministries and other faith-based agencies come under attack, First Liberty is their greatest hope for victory. Will you consider making a financial donation today?