Discrimination in Social Services

300 Religious Leaders Condemn Policies That Misuse Religious Freedom To Justify Discrimination In Foster Care

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Hundreds of faith leaders nationwide are speaking 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 are the “wrong” religion or LGBTQ.

More than 300 faith leaders, representing diverse religious traditions in 47 states, signed the statement “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.

“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 deadline for submitting public comments to the Department of Health and Human Services on this proposed rule is Thursday, Dec. 19.

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 for Separation of Church and State 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 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 and Wiccans.

Faith leaders signing the letter include:

The Rev. Amanda Henderson, Executive Director, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado: “As a Christian pastor and an adoptive mother, I hope that every child has the chance to be raised by loving parents. At a time when there are so many children in need, it is a tragedy to keep kids from the opportunity to have a loving home, regardless of the religion, gender or sexuality of the parents. Religion should call us to love and care for one another, and should not be used to limit available homes for kids in need.”

Rabbi Robert B. Barr, Congregation Beth Adam, Loveland, Ohio: “Discrimination is wrong, particularly when it is used to deny children in need of safe and loving homes. Religion is corrupted when it is used to claim that LGBTQ individuals or people of the ‘wrong’ religions are not qualified to adopt or foster children. Building strong and healthy families in order to ensure that all children grow up in supportive homes should be the goal of any civilized society. To misuse religion to do otherwise is to undermine our American value of religious freedom.”

The Rev. Alejandro Alfaro-Santiz, Trinity Las Americas United Methodist Church, Des Moines, Iowa: “Parents come in all shapes, colors, sizes, sexual orientations, faiths or no faith. As a Christian, I believe we are all uniquely created by God, and God does not create mistakes. In the U.S.A., LGBTQ people, non-Christians, and other marginalized people have a firsthand lived experience of the importance of love in people’s lives in order to thrive. They are in a better position to understand the experience of children living in foster care or who are waiting to be adopted. Rather than turning away these qualified, compassionate adults, child welfare agencies should be actively seeking them out.”

Click here to read the full statement and for a list of faith leaders participating.

Click here for more information about the lawsuit Maddonna v. HHS.


Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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