New Bill Calls for Religious Freedom in Foster Care

Two Republican senators on July 30 introduced a bill that would allow faith-based child welfare providers the freedom to discriminate against foster parents based on religious beliefs.

The Child Welfare Provider Act 2014 co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) is meant to safeguard religious freedom among faith-based organizations that provide adoption and foster care services.

Many private providers of adoption and foster care services are faith-based organizations, which contract with the state to recruit adoptive/foster parents. Some religious providers only recruit married men and women to be foster parents, refusing to serve same-sex or unmarried couples because of their religious beliefs.

A handful of states have enacted civil union and same-sex marriage policies that strip the funding and contracts from faith-based organizations that refuse to incorporate those practices in their adoption and foster care services.

The most notable case occurred in 2011, when Illinois severed ties with five faith-based child welfare providers since the state’s civil union law took effect last month. The groups – five regional affiliates of Catholic Charities – object to licensing unmarried and gay couples as foster or adoptive parents.

Similar actions have since been taken in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

“Limiting their work because someone might disagree with what they believe only ends up hurting the families they could be bringing together,” said Enzi in a press release. “This legislation will help make sure faith-based providers and individuals can continue to work alongside other agencies and organizations, and that adoptive and foster parents have access to providers of their choice.”

The inclusion act follows on the coattails of the Supreme Court’s recent decision that institutions have religious rights.

“This bill is about fairness and inclusion,” said Kelly in the same press release. “It is about ensuring that everyone who wants to help provide foster or adoptive care to children is able to have a seat at the table.”

The bill, if passed, would protect faith-based organizations’ right to act in accordance with their beliefs, prevent the government from taking “adverse actions” against them and provide relief for those organizations that feel their rights have been violated.

A bill to strip federal funds from any provider that would not consider any adoptive or foster couple was proposed in 2011 by former Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.). Though Stark drew 56 co-sponsors, the bill went nowhere.

Brian Rinker is a Journalism for Social Change Fellow and a recent graduate from San Francisco State University’s journalism program. 

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Brian Rinker
About Brian Rinker 40 Articles
Brian is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley's School of Journalism and a freelance journalist.


  1. Yes, but what about the youth in care of these organizations? When I was in foster care, my case was given to a faith-based Foster Family Agency that openly discriminated against same-sex couples.

    As a gay 15 year-old, this was incredibly stressful. I felt the need to closet myself from my foster parents. I heard stories of other youth being turned away from foster homes based on their sexual orientation.

    Allowing organizations to discriminate against LGBT foster parents sends a hateful message LGBT youth who need love, support and safety.

  2. Hmm. Private providers of foster care and adoption services are contractors of public child welfare agencies, which in turn are agents of the court. If private foster care and adoption provider organizations are permitted, based on their expressed religious beliefs, to discriminate against certain individuals who wish to be foster parents, aren’t the public agency and the court, by utilizing that private agency, also discriminating against the excluded individual for the same religious reasons? And doesn’t that violate the 1st Amendment?

    • That is a very interesting point. I imagine that the Supreme Court’s ruling on the health care law, which asserts the rights of a private enterprise’s religious beliefs emboldened the authors of this legislation. But, it is a good question. Are private corporations working on behalf of public institutions really just an extended arm of the public institution?

  3. SO SO SO SO SO DISAPPOINTING!… Is there no end to their madness??? It is things like this that make me wonder, honestly, why ANY Bible believing Christian votes republican anymore. There is NOTHING Christ-like about them. They hate they poor and the needy and they seem to have no regard for the “orphans” (and by that I mean…children in need of healthy, loving parent(s)…whether temporarily or permanently…I DO NOT MEAN TO say they are without parents when they enter in to care…) They would rather there be a foster home crisis, even more than there is now, than allow children to be in a home with stable, loving, healthy, same-sex parents….blows my mind…

    “This is what the LORD says: For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath]. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.'” Amos 2:6-7

    Matthew 18:5, “Whoever receives a child in My name, receives Me.”

  4. I feel that any responsible individual or couple should be allowed to be considered as a foster family. I do not feel the same sex couples or individuals should be discredited on that basis only.

  5. It isn’t just the funding that causes the problem, it is the yelling “discrimination” if a faith agency refuses to adopt out a child to a homesexual couple. Even if an agency used only privately raised funds and the funds of adopting couples, they should be free to make choices on their independent morals. this bill is good thinking ahead. I hope it makes passage.

  6. It doesn’t sound like single parents and/or same sex couples would be denied the opportunity to becone foster parents only that they have to choose an agency that handles their situation. the key word is “private” agency.

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