Religion & Liberty Online

Foster Care Rules Conflict With Religious Freedom

FosterParentImageSome of the earliest documentation of children being cared for in foster homes can be found in the Old Testament and in the Talmud, notes the National Foster Care Parent Association (NFPA). And early Christian church records also show children were boarded with “worthy widows” who were paid by collections from the congregation.

The modern foster care movement also has roots in religious-based charity. In the mid-1850s, the work of Charles Loring Brace, a minister and director of the New York Children’s Aid Society, became the foundation for the foster care movement as it exists today.

As a result of the New York Children’s Aid Society’s placements sectarian social agencies and state governments became involved in foster home placements. But once the state became involved, the values of government bureaucrats began to trump religious convictions in determining what was best for children.

A prime example is new laws and regulations regarding gender identity and sexual orientation that conflicts with the values of religious foster parents. In The Weekly Standard, Jeryl Bier explains how the federal Department of Health and Human Services is weighing in and requiring “affirmation”:

The guidelines run for more than 60 pages, and their overriding message is “affirmation.” This guiding principle was retained from New York’s LGBTQ policy issued in July 2011: “Under no circumstance is any staff member of Children’s Services or its provider agencies to attempt to convince a [LGBTQ] youth to reject or modify his/her sexual orientation or gender identity.” ACS takes this policy very seriously, instructing staff, “Every time you see other staff or youth making negative remarks, bias statements, verbal or physical remarks, or not respecting name and pronoun preferences, it is your responsibility to intervene and report the incident.” And religious beliefs are no excuse.

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It may be that the LGBTQ agenda will eventually squeeze religious organizations and individuals out of the care of orphans and other children in crisis—services pioneered by Christian and other religious organizations. Already the evidence suggests that the deck is stacked in favor of the pro-LGBTQ side of the issue. This raises the question of what is truly the main priority: the child’s best interests or the interests of an increasingly secular state. If religious groups do not have a place at the table when such regulations and guidelines are developed, they are likely to see their values and concerns continue to be marginalized and their freedoms further diminished.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).