February 2020 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Hundreds of faith leaders nationwide joined forces in December to speak out against state and federal policies that harm children and license discrimination by allowing taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption agencies to turn away qualified families and volunteers who profess the “wrong” religion or are LGBTQ.

More than 300 faith leaders, representing diverse religious traditions in 47 states, signed a statement titled “A Family for Every Child,” which condemns the misuse of religious freedom to justify discrimination and deny children in foster care the safe, loving homes they need and deserve. They were pulled together by Faith Leaders United, a project of Americans United.

“As faith leaders, we celebrate the important work of so many faith-based child welfare agencies that support youth in foster care and families,” the faith leaders stated. “We are also deeply committed to religious freedom, but that freedom doesn’t give anyone the right to impose their beliefs on others or to put children in harm’s way. To argue that religious freedom justifies the use of taxpayer dollars to discriminate against children and prospective parents is a distortion of such freedom.”

The faith leaders’ concerns come as the Trump administration has introduced a new rule that would strip nondiscrimination protections from government-funded service pro­viders, including foster care and adop­tion agencies. This rule would allow taxpayer-funded agencies nationwide to turn away prospective families who don’t share the agencies’ religious beliefs.

The proposed rule would go far beyond the religious exemption from nondiscrimination laws that the Trump administration granted in January to South Carolina foster care agencies, which prompted Americans United to file a federal lawsuit. Maddonna v. HHS was brought on behalf of Aimee Maddonna, a Catholic mother of three who was rejected by the taxpayer-funded foster care agen­cy Miracle Hill Ministries because Maddonna doesn’t share the agency’s evangelical Protestant beliefs.

“All government-funded child welfare agencies must make decisions with the best interest of the child in mind,” the faith leaders wrote. “[P]ermitting taxpayer dollars to subsidize discrimination will hurt children in need of loving and supportive homes. These policies put the interests of taxpayer-funded providers above the best interests of children in care.”

The faith leaders noted that more than 120,000 children in the United States are in need of adoption, and that more than 440,000 children nationwide are in foster care. “These policies are an unnecessary and harmful impediment to uniting children with caring and safe families,” the statement said.

Denominations represented by the faith leaders signing the statement include Baptists, Buddhists, Catho­lics, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalians, Jews, Lutherans, Metho­dists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Sev­­enth-­day Adven­­tists, Unitarian Uni­ver­salists, United Church of Christ members and Wiccans.