Interfaith Coalition for Children’s Rights

Since 1995, Children’s Rights has been advocating for children in broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. We have won landmark legal victories across the United States that hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy.


We have been increasingly concerned about state and federal legislation and policy that expressly allow taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies to discriminate based on their religious beliefs, against potential foster or adoptive parents—specifically LGBTQ couples. Some of the bills are so broad as to permit discrimination against children. Using religion as justification, these laws deprive the most vulnerable children among us of the chance to be welcomed into the homes of safe and loving families.

This has the potential to do grave harm to the children we serve: according to 2018 research by the Williams Institute, one in five same-sex couples (21.4 percent) are raising adopted children compared to just 3 percent of different-sex couples, and 2.9 percent of same-sex couples have foster children compared to 0.4 percent of different-sex couples. This means that same-sex couples are seven times more likely than different-sex couples to be raising an adopted or foster child.

In November 2019, the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era equal rights regulation in order to nationalize this discrimination with a new rule. On February 9, 2021, a federal court granted a joint request from the Biden Administration and the plaintiffs, who had brought a lawsuit regarding the new rule, to postpone the rule’s effective date until August 11, 2021. This will give us, our allies, and the new administration time to work on reinstating non-discrimination rules.

But discriminatory state laws remain in place.


One of the best ways to counter this harm is to bring faith leaders together on behalf of children in child welfare systems. That’s why we launched the Interfaith Coalition for Children’s Rights. We hope that you will join us in fighting back against state legislation and policy that use religious freedom to enshrine a “license to discriminate.”

Currently, eleven states have provisions that allow discrimination based on “religious freedom.” Similar bills have been introduced in several other states.

Source: Movement Advancement Project


Although state legislation and the Trump administration’s rulemaking are directed at the LGBTQ community, as in Philadelphia and Michigan, the language permits taxpayer-funded discrimination against anyone who does not meet the religious litmus test of child welfare service providers. 

For example, a South Carolina provider agency refused to work with a Catholic family, a Jewish couple, and a Jewish woman simply because of their faith. Around the time this information became public, the State sought and was granted a waiver from a federal nondiscrimination regulation, the very one the Trump administration rescinded, to enable agencies to continue to turn away otherwise qualified prospective foster and adoptive parents. Children’s Rights respects and values the role that faith-based agencies play in providing both placement and services for children in foster care across the country. Our concern is with government-sanctioned discrimination of any kind. 


Please urge your state legislators to require child welfare agencies to put children first. Stay informed—for updates, join the Children’s Rights email list and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

In addition, if your U.S. Representative or Senators are not listed as co-sponsors of the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act, please contact them and urge them to become co-sponsors. The John Lewis ECDF House and Senate Bills were re-introduced on May 26, 2021.

This legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or religion in the provision of child welfare programs and services by entities receiving federal funding. It obligates the Department of Health and Human Services to help states follow this requirement, including by (1) providing guidance for bringing state laws into compliance, (2) developing training to increase cultural competency related to social identity, and (3) developing training for judges and attorneys involved in child welfare cases, among other supports.


As we move forward in our advocacy, we will call on the Interfaith Coalition for Children’s Rights to submit public comments, sign letters, participate in amicus briefs, and mobilize grassroots action. Working together, we can make a real difference. The Court ruled on June 17, 2021 that Philadelphia cannot prohibit Catholic Social Services from turning away same-sex prospective foster parents. But the decision was very narrow, and limited to the terms of the contract between the City and CSS. The Court did not grant child welfare agencies a broad license to discriminate. You can read more about the decision or listen to the Imprint News Weekly Podcast with Christina Wilson Remlin, Lead Counsel at Children’s Rights. 

The brief argued on behalf of the nation’s foster children who will be profoundly and irreparably harmed if the Court rules that taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies have a constitutional right to discriminate against prospective families based solely on religious beliefs. 

Founding members of our Interfaith Coalition include the Hon. Ruth Messinger, Social Justice Activist and Consultant; Union Theological Seminary (Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President, and Rev. Frederick A. Davie, Executive Vice President); Episcopal Divinity School at Union (Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean, and Miguel Escobar, Executive Director); Rabbi David Sandmel, Director of Interreligious Engagement, ADL (Anti-Defamation League); and Rabbi Steve Gutow, Visiting Scholar, The Wagner School, New York University.


Please send an email to Daniele Gerard at dgerard@childrensrights.org with any questions you may have, and to let us know we can count on your faith organization to become a member of the Interfaith Coalition for Children’s Rights.


To follow additional ongoing media coverage, please visit our LGBTQ Project page.



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