Trump’s plan to allow religious discrimination will harm kids in need
By Steve Kilar, September 2019 Issue.
There are more than
13,000 children in foster care in Arizona, according to the state’s Department
of Child Safety. That’s a daunting number and one that demands all prospective
foster and adoptive parents be treated with dignity and respect.
Fortunately, there is an Obama-era federal
regulation in effect that says all foster and adoption agencies receiving
federal funds cannot discriminate against people based on factors including
age, disability, sex, race, national origin, religion, gender identity, or
sexual orientation. That makes sense: an agency that receives public money
should be required to serve the whole public.
But according to recent news reports, the
Trump administration is considering rolling back these nondiscrimination
protections or making religious agencies immune to them.
This is not surprising considering the
myriad ways the Trump administration has acted to harm LGBTQ people but it’s
disturbing, nonetheless. No otherwise eligible foster or adoptive parent should
be dismissed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In the
end, a rule allowing this kind of discrimination would harm kids in need of
“Families who are rejected by an agency
because of their faith or sexual orientation may not have other options in
their area,” wrote Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV
Project in a May blog post. “Even if they do, the sting and humiliation of
discrimination may deter some from approaching other agencies to possibly face
Several Arizona counties only have two or
three agencies that license foster parents on behalf of the state. Many of the
licensing agencies in Arizona are religious. If a nationwide rule allowing
religious discrimination by child welfare agencies were approved, it would not
be hard to imagine an Arizona where LGBTQ people in some parts of the state could
not obtain a foster care license.
“When families are deterred from fostering,
this means that more children will be placed in group homes, separated from
siblings, and age out of foster care without ever being adopted,” noted Cooper,
who was writing about a lawsuit that Lambda Legal and the ACLU filed against
the Trump administration and South Carolina.
In January, the Trump administration
granted South Carolina an exemption to the rules prohibiting discrimination in
federally funded child welfare programs. South Carolina’s Department of Social
Services had determined Miracle Hill Ministries, a foster care agency,
“violated state and federal law by restricting eligibility to prospective
foster parents who are evangelical Protestant Christians,” according to the
lawsuit. The agency had refused to work with Jewish, Catholic, and LGBTQ people
because they did not share or fit within the agency’s religious beliefs. The
lawsuit aims to prove that the Trump administration and South Carolina are
violating the Constitution by allowing agencies to use religious criteria to
exclude would-be parents.
In March, the state of Michigan settled a
similar lawsuit brought by the ACLU, agreeing to require all tax-funded child
welfare agencies to work with LGBTQ people. The same-sex couple who filed the
case had been turned away by two religiously affiliated child welfare agencies
that provided state-contracted services.
“Freedom of religion is absolutely
important in our society, but that should not give anyone the right to impose
their beliefs on a child seeking a forever home or families like ours who are
coming forward to care for them,” the Michigan couple, Kristy and Dana Dumont,
wrote in an op-ed for Vice in June 2018.
When a religious agency that is doing work
on behalf of the government declines to serve someone because that person is
LGBTQ, practices a different faith, or is not religious at all, that’s not
religious liberty. It’s state-sponsored discrimination.
The Every Child Deserves a Family Act would
preserve the child welfare nondiscrimination regulations in statute. The bill,
which was reintroduced in June, also proposes banning conversion therapy for
children involved with federally funded child welfare services.
Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil
rights pioneer, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York are the primary
sponsors of the current bill, which was first introduced in 2009. Reps. Ruben
Gallego, Raúl Grijalva, and Ann Kirkpatrick are the only members of Arizona’s
congressional delegation cosponsoring the 2019 version.
A guiding principle of U.S. child welfare
law is that decisions should be made “in the best interest” of a child. The
Trump administration’s attempts to restrict the number of eligible foster and
adoptive families clearly doesn’t fit that standard.
passage of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (H.R.3114 and S.1791) is
unlikely during the current Congress, our elected leaders need to hear from
constitutes who support it, so there’s momentum for the bill’s eventual
passage. Contact your members of Congress and tell them you support this
proposal, which would ensure kids in the child welfare system have the best
opportunity to join a loving home.