With increasing pressure on adoption and foster care agencies to act against their religious beliefs, the U.S. bishops are pushing for legislation to protect them. “Our first and most cherished freedom, religious liberty, is to be enjoyed by all Americans, including child welfare providers who serve the needs of children — the most vulnerable members of society,” said a March 9 letter. The letter was authored by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee; Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who heads the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chair of the marriage defense subcommittee. The letter was sent to Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), sponsors of new proposed legislation, the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2015. The bill would ensure that federal and state funds and contracts cannot be withheld from child welfare providers because they refuse services out of conscience. Religiously-affiliated adoption and foster care agencies have already been threatened for not providing children to same-sex couples against their beliefs. Agencies in three states — Massachusetts, California, and Illinois — and the District of Columbia have lost their state contracts for not doing so. In Illinois, the law has caused over 3,000 children to leave religiously-affiliated foster care agencies, the bishops’ conference said. And one voice in particular must not be left out of the adoption decision — the biological parents. They have the right to determine who they want adopting their child, the bishops insisted. “Indeed, women and men who want to place their children for adoption ought to be able to choose from a diversity of adoption agencies, including those that share the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions,” they wrote. “The Inclusion Act recognizes and respects this parental choice.” The bill’s sponsors hailed the American tradition of religious social services, saying it must be upheld. “Faith-based organizations have always played an extraordinary role in caring for our nation’s most vulnerable children. Millions of Americans are better off today because of their noble work,” said Rep. Kelly at the bill’s introduction. “No provider should ever have to forfeit their First Amendment rights in order to create a better life for a child.”
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