There have been some positive developments recently in the fight against those who would allow taxpayer-funded adoption and foster-care agencies to use religion to discriminate against prospective parents and children in need. But some continue to push an agenda of elevating the religious beliefs of these child-welfare agencies above the best interests of children in need – so Americans United is fighting back.

Some background: Philadelphia stopped working with Catholic Social Services after learning that the agency was violating the city’s antidiscrimination laws by refusing to place children with LGBTQ residents. Rather than agreeing to put kids first and work with all available prospective parents, Catholic Social sued the city.

Yesterday, Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Philadelphia’s policy that ensures that public money does not fund discrimination. Our brief explains that the Constitution prohibits publicly funded organizations from denying people services based on religion or sexual orientation in the performance of governmental contracts. Our laws are meant to be a shield that protects religious freedom, not a sword used to harm others.

AU and a coalition of allies also were successful in defeating a legislative proposal at the federal level that would have allowed similar discrimination against prospective parents and kids in care. Republican members of U.S. House of Representative in July tucked discriminatory language into a routine spending bill for the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services. Known as the Aderholt amendment , the provision would have permitted child welfare agencies that receive federal funding to cite religion  to justify refusing to place children in need of stable homes with loving families because prospective parents were LGBTQ, single, previously divorced or even the “wrong religion.” It would have also let these agencies discriminate against the kids in care.

AU helped organize a letter from hundreds of civil rights and child welfare organizations in urging members of Congress to oppose the amendment, and our voices were heard: The final version of the bill that was signed into law had the harmful adoption language stripped from it.

While we celebrate this victory, we know the fight is far from over. Several states have passed laws allowing agencies to discriminate, including Kansas and Oklahoma earlier this year. And far-right evangelical Christians are pushing this agenda: a few weeks ago it was a popular topic at the Values Voter Summit, where a Kansas state legislator was named the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council’s “State Legislator of the Year” for her work to shepherd along her state’s discriminatory bill.

This agenda goes against the bedrock principle of our child welfare system by putting the religious beliefs of these agencies above the best interest of kids. Nearly half a million children in the United States are in foster care. Every year, fewer than half of the children waiting to be adopted find forever homes and tens of thousands of foster youth age out of the system without finding a loving, forever family.

Religious freedom gives Americans the right to believe, or not, as they choose, but it does not give anyone the right to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against kids and families. That’s especially true when organizations, like these adoption and foster-care agencies, get public funding to provide a service on behalf of the government. Taxpayer money should never fund discrimination.

Through our Protect Thy Neighbor project, Americans United will continue to fight attempts to use religion to harm others. And we need your help: please sign up for our emails so that you can be ready to respond.