In the child welfare system, all decisions regarding children must promote their best interests.
However, several states across the country have passed harmful laws that allow taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption agencies to make decisions for children based on the religious beliefs of the agency and its staff members rather than a child’s best interests.
These laws permit government-funded agencies to turn away well-qualified prospective families for child placement simply because they do not pass an agency’s religious litmus test–whether it is because they are of a different faith, LGBTQ, unmarried, or do not regularly attend church services.
When states allow adoption decisions to be based on the beliefs of child placement workers and agencies instead of the best interests of children, it’s kids who pay the price.
Since the Supreme Court decided Obergefell in 2015, those who oppose marriage equality have introduced and passed child welfare “license to discriminate” laws in an increasing number of states. Between 2017-2018, six states passed these laws.
Currently, there are 10 states with laws allowing discrimination by child welfare agencies: Alabama (2017), Kansas (2018), Michigan (2015), Mississippi (2016), North Dakota (2003), Oklahoma (2018), South Carolina (2018), South Dakota (2017), Texas (2017), and Virginia (2012).
The scope of the laws varies—in their narrowest form, they allow agencies to turn away qualified foster and adoptive parents; at worst, they allow agencies to discriminate against potential parents and LGBTQ youth in foster care, including engaging in proselytizing and “conversion therapy,” a harmful and discredited practice.
Protecting Foster Children
Children in foster care are among the most vulnerable people in our nation. As such, they are in dire need of safe and loving homes.
Nearly 443,000 children are in foster care in the United States, over 123,000 of whom are waiting to be adopted. By allowing agencies to turn away qualified prospective parents, children are deprived of the best opportunity to find a home they so desperately need and deserve.
The harm is exacerbated for the LGBTQ youth in the foster care system, who are denied placement with affirming and supportive families, or who may themselves experience discrimination or harassment under these state laws.
To be sure, freedom of religion is a cherished value in our country, and faith-based agencies play an important role in working to help children find their forever homes. But religious freedom does not permit agencies to use taxpayer dollars to discriminate against children and prospective parents.