Religious freedom, Congress said unanimously in 1998, “undergirds the very origin and existence of the United States.” Today, however, an obsession with gender ideology is driving governments to ignore the First Amendment, defy clear Supreme Court precedent, and even violate their own laws and regulations to root out those with the “wrong” religious views about sexuality. This bigotry not only violates fundamental rights, but it also puts vulnerable children at risk.
During the 2021-22 fiscal year, more than 9,700 children were placed in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, which had already acknowledged a serious lack of both foster families and group homes.
While DCF does not publish an official number, reports began to emerge that abused and neglected children removed from their homes who had no place to stay ended up sleeping in social workers’ offices, sometimes for nights at a time. Other foster children were forced to stay in hospitals or emergency rooms because no other placements were available.
Especially in the middle of this crisis, what could possibly be more important than finding families who could provide a safe and loving home for foster kids? The answer is the same thing that drives disastrous business decisions, dangerous educational practices, and media self-censorship: gender ideology.
Here’s what Massachusetts is doing.
Mike and Kitty Burke are lifelong residents of Springfield, Massachusetts. Mike is an Iraq War veteran, and Kitty has experience working with special needs children. After finding they could not bear their own children, the Burkes applied to be foster parents, successfully completing training and going through extensive interviews and an evaluation of the home environment in which foster kids would live. DCF, however, rejected their application solely because of their religious beliefs, as faithful Catholics, about sexuality and marriage.
DCF regulations require foster families to “support and respect a child’s sexual orientation and gender identity” but, unfortunately, do not further define what this means. The Burkes’ objective qualifications and commitment to accept, love, and care for children regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity was not enough.
During their foster parent training, the Burkes were told that foster parents must actually affirm same-sex relationships and transgender identities, a requirement that apparently extends to their own personal beliefs.
The home interviewer recommended against allowing the Burkes to foster children “due to the couple’s views. … They are heavily involved in their Catholic Church and cite their religious views” as the basis for how they look at sexuality and marriage. In the end, DCF rejected the Burkes because of their “beliefs.”
In rooting out applicants with the “wrong” religious beliefs, DCF ignored its own regulations. DCF’s Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights, for example, prohibits discrimination against prospective foster parents “on the basis of religion,” and its regulations claim that it “does not deny any adult the opportunity to become a foster family on the basis of … religion.” Tell that to the Burkes.
DCF policy supposedly prevents staff from “imposing their personal, cultural, and/or religious beliefs on children and families involved with the Department.” At the same time, DCF makes this very imposition more likely by leaving key determinations about applicants’ fitness to a social worker’s unfettered subjective discretion.
Here, DCF rejected the Burkes because, as the primary social worker assigned to their application put it, their “faith is not supportive” of every child’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
DCF claims to prioritize applicants willing to care for sibling groups, children from diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds, and those with special needs. The Burkes checked all of those boxes, and evaluators noted that Mike’s experience of PTSD following his military service and Kitty’s work with special needs children would enhance their effectiveness as foster parents. The Burkes even said they were open to adopting foster children who could not be reunified with their birth families. Still not good enough.
In a way, DCF’s discrimination is worse than if it had simply excluded all people of faith. DCF, you see, claims to recruit foster families from diverse faith communities. No, DCF discriminates among religious families, rejecting those with religious beliefs that the state finds objectionable. In other words, Catholics (as well as Muslims and many Jews and Protestants) have a shot only if they reject their church or faith tradition’s teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity.
DCF not only disregarded its own policies and regulations, it also ignored the U.S. Constitution and several recent Supreme Court decisions interpreting it:
- In Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, for example, the Supreme Court held that Philadelphia violated the First Amendment by terminating Catholic Charities’ contract to be a foster care agency solely because it declined to certify same-sex couples for foster child placement.
- In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Court held that government must enforce its laws and regulations in a “fair and neutral” manner and may not show hostility toward religion.
- In Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, the Supreme Court made clear that government may not exclude otherwise qualified individuals from participation in programs solely because of their religious views.
- In 303 Creative v. Elenis, the Supreme Court held that government may not “coerce an individual to speak contrary to her beliefs on a significant issue of personal conviction, all in order to eliminate ideas that differ from its own.”
The desperate need of children, DCF’s own policies and regulations, and even clear Supreme Court directives are not enough to hinder gender warriors in Massachusetts. Foster children have already endured enough trauma; they should not be collateral damage in the war over gender ideology.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal