A congressional committee debated a bill last week that determines how much money the Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services can spend next year. But House Republicans weren’t content to just pass a bill to fund vital government services.
Instead, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), with support from Reps. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), and Tom Cole (R-Okla.), tacked on an amendment to allow child welfare agencies, which get money from the bill, to use religion to discriminate. Unfortunately, the amendment passed by a vote of 29-23 with just one Republican—Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.)—voting against it.
This amendment permits adoption and foster care agencies that receive federal funding to discriminate against qualified prospective parents and children in need based on the agency’s religious beliefs. The result: Kids who are in need of stable homes could be denied the opportunity to join a loving family because prospective parents are LGBTQ, single, previously divorced, or even the “wrong religion.” And kids could languish for years in the system.
These taxpayer-funded agencies could also refuse to offer assistance to kids without a home. The agency could refuse to provide a foster home to an LGBTQ teen, provide necessary health care to a child who has been sexually assaulted, or allow a kid in foster care to attend her church.
Religious freedom gives Americans the right to believe, or not, but it does not give us the right to use our religious beliefs to discriminate against kids and families. That’s especially true when organizations, like these adoption and foster care agencies, get taxpayer funding to provide a service on behalf of the government. Taxpayer money should never fund discrimination.
And what’s more, this measure goes against everything our child welfare system is supposed to stand for. When the government makes decisions on a child’s behalf, it is supposed to consider the best interest of the child over all else. But this amendment puts the religious beliefs of government-funded adoption and foster care agencies above the best interest of kids—ignoring the bedrock standard.
Several states have encouraged similar policies to this one, and the results are appalling: An experienced foster mom in South Carolina was blocked from mentoring kids because she’s Jewish, a lesbian couple in Michigan was not allowed to adopt foster children because they are gay, and a lesbian couple in Texas was told they could not foster refugee children because they don’t “mirror the Holy Family.” This amendment would requires states to allow these shocking policies nationwide, and punishes any states or localities that do not permit such discrimination.
Fortunately, several representatives have spoken out against this measure. We were thankful to hear Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) all speak out during the hearing.
DeLauro noted that the amendment allowed religion to be used to harm others. She said that this amendment “harms vulnerable children in the foster care system and disregards the best interest of a child.”
Clark spoke to reiterate that children’s needs should come first: “A religious litmus test on adoptive parents? The cardinal rule of adoption-foster care is to put the interest of the child first: finding permanent loving homes.”
And the next day, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a statement declaring that “House Democrats will fight this disgusting, deeply immoral and profoundly offensive effort with all our strength.” We’ll be supporting their fight.
Although a congressional committee has approved this amendment, several critical steps remain in the process. We will urge legislators to strip this harmful section from the bill at every step of the way. Sign up for our emails so that we can keep you informed about what you can do to fight this amendment, and all other efforts in Congress, that allow religion to be used as an excuse to harm others.