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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.

THE PROBLEM

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In November 2019, the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era equal rights regulation in order to nationalize this discrimination with a new rule.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

But discriminatory state laws remain in place. Currently, eleven states have provisions that allow discrimination based on “religious freedom.” Similar bills have been introduced in several other states.

WHAT WE ARE DOING

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.”

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. 

Source: Movement Advancement Project

BACKGROUND

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.

In November 2021, the Biden administration revoked the waivers that allowed taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies to override non-discrimination rules when they conflicted with providers’ religious beliefs. This move came after the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would reinstitute the Obama-era nondiscrimination policy in three states that had sought and been granted waivers: Michigan, South Carolina, and Texas. Foster care providers in these states can no longer turn away would-be foster parents because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion.

However, in Tennessee, a foster care provider turned away a Jewish couple who wanted to adopt a 3-year old boy based on a law that allows taxpayer-funded adoption agencies not to place children in arrangements that violate the agencies’ “religious or moral convictions or policies.” The couple is challenging the 2020 state law and suing the state child welfare agency.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  1. Urge your members of Congress to pass the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act.
  2. Demand equality now and call on your Senators to pass the Equality Act.
  3. Stay informed—for updates, join the Children’s Rights email list and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

INTERFAITH COALITION FOR CHILDREN’S RIGHTS

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. 

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, Senior Strategic Advisor to the 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.

GET INVOLVED

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.

QUICK LINKS

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

INTERFAITH COALITION FOR CHILDREN'S RIGHTS

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