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.