Are You Kidding? Child Welfare Agencies that Discriminate Don’t Deserve Government Funding

In September 2017, the ACLU sued the state of Michigan for working with faith-based adoption agencies that regularly incorporate discriminatory practices. This case, Dumont v. Lyon, is in the court for the Eastern District of Michigan, where oral arguments were heard on March 7. The Catholic News Agency writes it off as political maneuvering on the part of the ACLU, but the ACLU sees the case as imperative to protecting the rights of prospective foster and adoptive families, as well as the rights of the children who will be placed in homes. They rightly assert that Michigan is violating the US Constitution by allowing taxpayer-funded child placement agencies to deny the 13,000 children currently in the state welfare system appropriate foster and adoptive families who don’t fit their religious criteria (namely adoptive or foster parents who are single, or couples that are unmarried or same-sex).

In a related story, on March 13, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster voiced his support for the right of foster care agencies to discriminate based on the religion of prospective foster families. McMaster stood in support of an agency that requires families to be Christian with the issuing of an executive order to that effect. For decades, Miracle Hill Ministries in Greenville, South Carolina, has only allowed foster children to be placed with families who share the organization’s Christian faith. That practice came under scrutiny when a new regulation took effect toward the end of the Obama administration, which prevented publicly licensed and funded foster care agencies from servicing specific religions. Previously, foster care agencies were only prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin. McMaster sent a letter to the executive director of Miracle Hill, assuring Reid Lehman that he supports religious freedom for foster care providers: “It is important that religious organizations not be required to sacrifice the tenets of their faith in order to serve the children of South Carolina.”

The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) offers a guide that highlights the problem of religious exemptions and adoption discrimination, noting that diverse families comprised of single parents, unmarried couples, and LGBTQ parents are key members of the foster and adoptive world. Same-sex couples are four times more likely than heterosexual couples to raise an adopted child and six times more likely to raise foster children, according to the Williams Institute.

While same-sex adoption and parenting has become more widely accepted, those statistics do not stop faith-based agencies from discriminating based on their own faith-driven conceptions of happy families. In Philadelphia, Megan Paszko and her partner researched for countless hours and on arrival at their first training with Bethany Christian Services they were approached by the trainer who told them: “I just want to be upfront. This organization has never placed a child with a same-sex couple.” Paszko reported that the trainer told them she really didn’t want to waste their time. In a follow-up call with administrators, the couple was then told that Bethany does not work with LGBTQ people because of the church’s views on homosexuality. Quaintly, they were offered names of other agencies to try. Separate but equal does not satisfy the call for equal rights to protection from religious discrimination.

Lawmakers at the federal and state levels should ensure that LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in adoption and foster care and should repeal religious exemption laws (like the one passed in Michigan in 2015) that give government support to those who would discriminate based on their religious or moral beliefs.