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Adoption and Foster Care

Religious Freedom for Adoption and Foster Care

Adoption and foster care services were pioneered by religious organizations decades and even centuries ago, long before governments expanded into supplying or funding a wide range of social, educational, and health services. Many private adoption agencies and foster care agencies, today, have religious roots. They maintain religious values, including a religion-based conviction that faith is important in life, children should be raised, if possible, by both a mother and a father, and marriage, as intended by God, joins together a man and a woman. 

Yet it is not only religious and morally conservative persons and couples that seek help to become adoptive parents or that volunteer to take on the challenge of fostering a child. Laws and court decisions protect the right of LGBTQ individuals and couples to adopt and foster and, indeed, LGBTQ people, along with evangelical Christians, are especially inclined to adopt and foster.

What Should Government Do?

What should governments do? States are primarily responsible for adoptions and foster care and they have chosen not so much to provide such services through their own civil servants and government-run agencies but by funding private adoption and foster care services providers. Many of the private agencies, because of their secular or religious values, have open doors for any person or couple—secular or religious, straight or gay, married or not—desiring to adopt or foster. Yet, a significant number of religious agencies, because of their religious beliefs and their deep convictions about the most appropriate families for children, work with religious people and/or couples and persons with morally conservative sexual identities and relationships. Should—must—a state force adoption and foster agencies that do not affirm LGBTQ values nevertheless to serve the LGBTQ community? Should—must—states and the federal government ban from federal child welfare funding those non-affirming private religious providers?

The City of Philadelphia, until June 17, 2021, had such a selective-funding policy, ending its foster-care services contract with a Catholic agency when it realized that the Catholic Church believes in man-woman marriage and the Catholic adoption and foster care agency did not serve same-sex couples (though it would refer them to other agencies). The Catholic agency was discriminatory, the City said; it could not provide government funds to an agency that would not serve all. But the U.S. Supreme Court, unanimously, ruled against the City. Of course, LGBTQ couples, free under the law to adopt and foster, must be able to get services from a City-funded private agency—as they had been able to do, even while the Catholic agency maintained its selective policy. No LGBTQ couple had sought services from the Catholic agency—they had many other choices. The legitimate goal of the City—to ensure that all eligible could receive services to which they were entitled—could be met without suppressing the freedom of the Catholic agency to remain faithful to its religious commitments. 

That’s the appropriate—pluralist—policy for government-funded adoption and foster care services. State governments should work with the wide range—the diverse—private service providers, providing funding equitably to each in proportion to their volume of services, or, in other words, proportionate to how often persons and couples in our diverse society select one or another agency. Access to services for everyone cannot be left to chance—but it does not require suppressing the diversity. 

 And suppressing the diversity, by obligating all private agencies to serve all, without regard to religion, kind of marriage, sexual orientation, or gender identity, is not actually a good way to ensure optimal adoption and foster care services. After all, a significant part of the population is committed to historic convictions about human sexuality and marriage. These people—potential adoptive and foster parents—are more likely to volunteer for the challenging assignment of becoming the new family (permanent or temporary) for a child or youth when the call comes from a private agency that they fully trust and that reflects their respective religious and moral values.

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