The chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have written to the sponsors of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2019, which would bar states from taking action against an adoption or foster care provider for offering its services in a way that would not violate its religious or moral principles.
"The act prevents the federal government and states that receive federal funds for child welfare services from excluding child welfare providers who believe that children deserve to be placed with a married mother and father," said the three bishops in Feb. 1 letters to U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, sponsor of the Senate version, and to U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pennsylvania, who introduced it in the House.
The three chairmen are Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
"Women and men who want to place their children for adoption ought to be able to choose an agency that shares the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions. The Inclusion Act recognizes and respects this parental choice," the bishops said.
"The freedom to serve in accord with one's religious beliefs and moral convictions is foundational to religious freedom in our nation," they said.
An earlier version of the bill, introduced in 2017, never got out of committee in the Senate. One of its major opponents is the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay rights and says religious opposition to placing children with same-sex couples discrimination.
"More than 104,000 youth living in the foster system today are eligible for adoption. In many states, child welfare agencies continue to discriminate against qualified, licensed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer foster and adoptive families, refusing to place youth with these families," it said in a December posting on its website.
"By denying LGBTQ families the ability to foster and adopt, children are denied the right to safe, happy, and healthy permanent homes," it added.
The USCCB chairmen noted how the exclusion of Catholic adoption and foster care agencies "has already happened in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, the District of Columbia, and is in progress or litigation in New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and at the federal level. In each of these places, religious agencies have been or are being driven out of offering adoption and foster care services due to their beliefs."
"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 bishops said, adding that the Inclusion Act would remedy "unjust discrimination by enabling providers to serve parents and children in a manner consistent with the providers’ religious beliefs and moral convictions."
The Senate bill has 17 sponsors, all of them Republican, and the House version has 38 sponsors, who include one Democrat.