Q&A: The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2017
What does the bill do?
The bill (H.R. 1881; S.811) guarantees that no government entity receiving federal child welfare funds – including federal and state entities – may discriminate against adoption agencies, foster care programs, and other child welfare organizations for declining to provide a service that conflicts with the provider's sincerely held religious or moral beliefs.
Why is it needed?
State and local laws infringe on conscience rights. Since the court-ordered legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2004 and elsewhere, leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court's Obergefell decision in 2015, there has been a concerted effort in some states to force faith-based child welfare agencies that believe children should have a mom and a dad, to choose between their convictions and continuing in ministry. Many faith-based adoption and foster agencies have chosen to close their doors rather than place children with same-sex couples. The first such government confrontation forced Catholic Charities of Boston to end its adoption ministry in 2006, and this repeated itself in Illinois, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. In April, 2018, Philadelphia initiated an investigation of two large faith-based adoption agencies for declining to work with same-sex couple adoption, which may force them to close their doors, as well.
Hostile lawsuits. Even in a state like Michigan that protects religious freedom and permits faith-based adoption agencies to place children in keeping with the agencies' religious views about marriage and children, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against those agencies arguing that the U.S. Constitution prohibits them from exercising their faith while receiving federal dollars. If successful, such a lawsuit would virtually eliminate faith-based agencies from participating in government programs to place children in foster and adoptive homes.
Isn't it discrimination to allow federally funded child welfare agencies to only deal with opposite-sex married couples?
No. The First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act guarantee that government can't discriminate against religious entities without a compelling reason. In addition to the legal issue, the fact is that there are more than enough secular agencies that will provide adoption referrals to same-sex couples. Faith-based entities are needed to meet the overwhelming numbers of children who need a forever home. Without them, many children will remain without families.
What about the "separation of church and state?" Doesn't that prevent federal funds from going to religious entities?
No. Government funding in the form of grants and contracts must be administered in a neutral way, and faith-based entities cannot be denied such funds simply because they are faith-based. The U.S. Supreme Court recently re-affirmed this principle in the 2017 Trinity Lutheran case. By the way, the phrase "separation of church and state" is not in the Constitution.
What can we do?
The attempt to drive out faith-based organizations from serving in the adoption and foster care field is serious and ongoing. We must pray for these organizations and support them as they stand up for their religious freedoms as well as the best interests of the children and families they serve. Proposed laws like the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2017 will go far to ensuring that religious freedom and the needs of children are protected.
How can we get our U.S. Senators and Representatives to make this bill a priority?
Please contact both of your U.S. Senators and Representative and request their help in moving this bill to a vote in each chamber. You can contact them via the federal switchboard (202-224-3121) and politely ask whoever answers the phone that you are calling to ask for the Senator's support in pushing S.811, (the Senate version), or your Representative's support in pushing H.R. 1881(the House version). You can mention any of the following:
- Without the bill, there will be fewer agencies providing much-needed child welfare services. This will increase the number of children waiting for forever homes.
- Freedom of religion belongs to everyone, including faith-based child welfare agencies.
- Faith-based entities reduce the cost and scope of government by allowing the private sector to provide crucial services to the public.