Atheists in Adoption: Proud, Caring and Secular

“You are so blessed.”
“You’re an angel.”
“Are you Catholic?”
“Are they all yours?”
“God Bless you.”

These statements are just a sampling of what people say to my husband and me when they find out we have seven children.

We have a blended family — three biological children and four who came to us from Tennessee through an interstate adoption program. Strangers and casual acquaintances step into our circle to celebrate our “good deed” as if we’re doing something to please God. These well-intentioned people have no clue that we are hiding something very important from them: our identity as atheists.

Most people assume it was our faith that led us to adopt. But after hearing all sorts of mischaracterizations and faulty conclusions about who we are, it’s time for me to speak up. We’re not religious and we’re adoptive parents.

In fact, because I’m a happy Secular Humanist parent, I have chosen to advocate for adopting older children and working through the complexities of interstate adoption. My hope is that we can encourage other secular families to find and take in children of their own. For too long, adoption has been linked with religious groups — not always, but often. That needs to change.

I don’t mind discussing adoption or atheism. The two have a lot in common and, in fact, both subjects can learn a lot from each other. Neither needs to be a secret and I don’t want my kids to be ashamed of either label.

However, those labels also don’t define our lives entirely; we are constantly evolving and growing and learning new ways to describe ourselves. (When you have seven kids, the definitions change frequently!) People celebrate adoption and many celebrate their own atheism, but the two worlds rarely intertwine. Both worlds are filled with rejection, intolerance, and misunderstanding.

There are angry atheists and there are angry adoptees. We are, however, on the happy end of both spectrums.

When I first discussed adoption with my husband, he assumed I wanted to travel to China to bring home a newly born baby. It was hard for him to grasp that I wanted to adopt a child and not an infant. I wanted to provide a home for a child who had grown up without one, not mold a child from birth. There’s a stigma against adopting older children (above the age of eight) and, before I even met my children, I had many people tell me why it wouldn’t work.

During our adoption home-study process, when adoption agencies assessed whether we would make good adoptive parents, we were asked about our religious upbringing, the church we currently attended, and how we would respect the foster child’s culture and potential decision to attend a church different from our own.

We never volunteered our atheism, nor were we asked; the social worker did, however, assume that we attended church. I suppose she had no reason to think otherwise — parents always adopt because of their faith, right? At least, both private and state agencies always wanted to know that information. I understand the need for thoroughly vetting a prospective family, but it’s not like they ever asked us about our political affiliations.

Even during the mandatory monthly foster parent meetings, I quickly learned that there was a degree of favoritism or intolerance depending on one’s religiosity. As a new foster parent, I was eager to share what I was thinking, but I discovered the more religious you said you were, the more popular you became within the group and the more placements you received.

I never felt I was able to declare my lack of religious belief to the foster care group because I feared I wouldn’t find any support.  So I decided it would be better to accentuate my family’s values instead of a particular religious label so that we could steer clear from the religiosity that continues to support those who are believers.

That’s when we began inquiring about kids via This website became my go-to resource for adopting children in the United States, specifically older children as opposed to infant adoption, and explained the whole process as well as the more complicated proceedings of an interstate adoption. It taught me that waiting families don’t have to adhere to someone else’s idea of “perfect” in order to adopt.

We stated honestly that we did not attend church. We were approved as adoptive parents on the basis of our experience and recommendations from the state agency. And then we stumbled upon a potential roadblock.

On Feb. 10, 2012, the Virginia Senate passed SB 349, known as the “Conscience Clause” bill. It was described as targeting LGBT populations in Virginia, but it also declared differences in religion as a factor for adoption. That meant that agencies receiving millions of dollars in state funding could discriminate against families they believed did not fit into their doctrine. I felt our opportunity to adopt disappearing. Words could not express my frustration. I promised my family I would never surrender.

Thankfully, those worries never came to fruition. We soon received a call that we would become parents — to a group of four siblings from Tennessee. We became adoptive parents because we were qualified and we had the qualities that these children needed. We did it without any help from god. And while we weren’t expecting that many children, we can no longer imagine our lives without each one of them.

Having gone through the process, I would now offer some advice to prospective atheist parents:

  1. Clarify your desire to adopt as a family and seek council with a trusted therapist specializing in adoption.
  2. Read everything you can about adoption, attachment issues, and legal barriers in your state.
  3. Do not let your lack of religious faith detour your goal.
  4. Join an online atheist & Humanist parenting group for (anonymous) support.
  5. Try respite care within a foster care agency first. By offering your services as a caretaker, you can learn what it’s like to help a child cope from a traumatic life event first hand. It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding. It’s also a way to dip your toes into the water of adoption.
  6. Be prepared to be rejected over and over (and over!). Don’t take the process personally.

My husband and I differ about whether or not to disclose one’s atheism to an agency. He believes it’s too soon in our society to be open about it entirely. But I think it’s our duty to be the change. If we don’t speak out, who will?

Children waiting to be adopted need secure, happy, and creative parents who will let them explore their own identities, deal with losses, and grieve. While adoption has traditionally been the purview of religious families, non-believers need to jump into the mix. All children deserve a home, especially older children, and secular families can do their part in providing homes for them. I encourage you to consider it as a way to really live out your Humanism.

Veronica Gilmore is the mother of a large blended family with seven children.

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About Veronica Chenik Gilmore 5 Articles
The Happy Gilmore's have a large blended secular free thinking family. They adopted a sibling group through an interstate adoption; blending their biological children and adopted children, all together they have 7 children. They live in Virginia, outside of Washington, DC.


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  2. I am so glad I found this! It is exactly how I feel and my experience within foster care groups.. I am currently weighing taking in a teenager (already have one adopted child) and find it hard to talk it out with anyone because I know I will hear a lot of “pray about it” or “Listen to god” and such and being an atheist those things clearly will not help my indecision…..

  3. I am a birth mother currently looking for non religious or atheist adoptive parents and I cannot find them anywhere. If you have an agencies you know that are secular I would greatly appreciate it!

  4. Thank you for coming out publicly. I wish that more prospective parents would. It is a painful thing to experience, especially when the process of shedding religious abuse is itself difficult. To go through all of that effort and then put up with bigotry because of what I *cannot* be (nope, not gay, just not married or fundamentalist or even really Christian) is enraging and very painful.

    • Thank you Lark. Organizations like Freedom from Religion and Openly Secular are making it easier for people to discuss the process of shedding religious abuse.

  5. Thank you for all of your kind responses! And especially from KLA adoption agency, I know secular families that are always approaching us for advice on selecting an agency that is right for them…it’s so hard for prospective adoptive parents to find resources on this topic.

  6. I am doing some reading on secular adoption, because my husband and I are going through the adoption process and are in the middle of it. Our agency knows we are a family that does not follow a religion. We did not come outright and call ourselves atheist, but we did say that we were non-religious in our adoption application essay that we had to write. The Essay had questions that prompted us to write about our religious backgrounds. I feel that all of this is information gathering, so they know who we are as a family. It will be up to the birth mother to decide to pick us, and when we make our profile, they will probably notice the lack of religious and Faith guiding our lives like some of the other people write about.

    • Thank you Amy!

      Our children were not from the traditional birth mother/placement route. Our children’s parents had no say in the placement. Unfortunately, the parents rights were terminated.

      However, in my research, I have reviewed websites (like whom set up an account and for a monthly fee run a profile of your family to adoption agencies and birth mothers looking for matches.

      When reviewing these profiles, I find most of the profiles overwhelmingly religious in nature and few profiles/families select “not religious”.

      I think this fact may cause two things to happen. Either adoptive parents are afraid to “profile” themselves this way, thinking they will get fewer calls or interested BM…or that the truth is that birth parents/BM/BF desire religious adoptive parents. I am not sure which one (or both) is true.
      But it is certainly a factor,when matched with a birth mother.

      I am interested in how this works out for you, I think the adoption agency would be less interested in how you designate your family because the decision falls mostly on the birth mother.

      Please keep me posted – veronicagilmore101 at gmail dot com

  7. Thank you for sharing this, Veronica. My husband and I are currently working to find a birth mother match through domestic infant adoption and I am having *so* much trouble finding any resources for people who don’t have a faith tradition or are non-believers. We would, of course, never discourage a child from choosing to be part of a faith community if that’s what worked for them at any point during their life, but it’s not something we participate or believe in. Our adoption agency is great about this, but there is definitely an undercurrent of “adoption is for the faithful” and “nonbelievers are angry and militant” in nearly every other resource we’ve encountered. Your article is very encouraging.

    • Yes, Lynne the non religius are the minority in adoption. That’s primarily why I came out publicly.

      This article is an edited piece that I had published with the The Friendly Atheist and Please google my name Veronica Chenik Gilmore for more in-depth articles about this subject…I will be posting more soon.

      I would like to share a few things that are important. The adoption of our children was not the traditional birth mother to adoptive family adoption. The children we adopted were listed on – they were older children, two of them teens. Their birth mother had no decision in selecting us.

      Many foster care agencies do ask for religious backgrounds and community organizational information. I have found that in most cases, agencies are wanting to get a sense of your families identity for compiling a thorough home study.This is important in the matching process, but can invite unwanted attention. The focus should be more on the parents ability to parent (financial, cultural, educational needs etc) and not the parents beliefs.
      In foster care, the foster parents are always to respect the children’s beliefs and carry on those traditions in order to have fewer disruptions and cultural hardships. I can totally understand respecting the children’s perspectives.

      From my experience, these questions seem natural for many people…but, stating that you are not religious (or worse an atheist!) may be taken out of context if the managing social worker feels different or even threatened with this information and (sometimes) it can certainly set you up for misunderstandings. Sometimes I have used the term Secular Humanist and that seems to be less threatening…?

      I have received many emails and comments from families who have experienced the process with case workers from both private agencies and public agencies. The majority of families (whose beliefs are secular in nature) have had a variable amount of success. Most families are afraid in revealing this information.

      The success depends on four factors.

      1) Where you live (rural or city, southern state, etc)

      2.) What kind of agency (public vs. private) and the type of adoption such as from foster care adoption, birth mother, or abroad.

      3.) The social workers politics and general feelings about placing children with your family, or families with non-traditional lifestyles or beliefs. Like-ability can be a factor.

      If social workers want children to be placed…in most cases they will match the right home for the waiting child, that is the goal.
      Regardless of a families belief, sexual orientation or politics…everyone should have the opportunity to parent.

  8. Thank you for your insightful article. I’m thinking of choosing an adoptive org for my bun and I didn’t want to have to choose only Christian families as prospective parents. It would be nice to know that the little one would be raise by someone who wouldn’t push religion on them. Not that I wouldn’t consider them as well, its just nice to have options.

    • Hi –
      I happened to be commenting on Veronica’s article and noticed your comment as well. My husband and I are hoping to become adoptive parents through domestic open adoption. We’re very inclusive people with a diverse community of family and friends, but don’t happen to have a faith tradition. If adoption is something you’re considering, please feel free to check out our website at for more information. Our agency is available as a free resource and, if you’re interested, it would be great to chat more to learn more about you!
      Thanks for your brave consideration and comment, Lynne

    • Thank you! It’s great to hear from a prospective Birth mother that would consider another option…Thank you and I hope your placement goes smoothly!

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