Yet another adoption agency is closing its doors, at a time when thousands of young victims of the opioid crisis flood America’s foster care system.
This time, it’s Catholic Charities of Buffalo, New York. The agency can no longer cooperate with the government there because the state will not allow Catholic Charities to operate consistently with its religious mission.
Catholic Charities of Buffalo represents another example in a disturbing trend toward driving out faith-based agencies from America’s child welfare system entirely—a trend that could cause children immeasurable harm.
Catholic Charities places children in homes with both a father and a mother in accordance with Catholic teaching on marriage and the family.
Unfortunately, the state now considers that belief to be discriminatory against LGBT individuals. New York issued an ultimatum: Abandon your beliefs, or quit your ministry. Catholic Charities is unable to comply with these rules and now must shut down, leaving the state with even fewer agencies to meet the needs of kids.
The state of New York is wrong to treat Catholic Charities’ religious mission in this manner.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges that those who uphold a traditional view of marriage do so “based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises.”
And as Kennedy made clear in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a religious belief in traditional marriage is not equivalent to discrimination on the basis of sexual identity, and the government cannot target people for their religious beliefs.
Americans must remain free to disagree on the definition of marriage if our civil liberties are to mean something. A government that can pick winners and losers in a debate on important cultural issues retains the power to silence debate on any topic. Everyone is vulnerable to lose their freedom when the state is given license to repress viewpoints it disfavors.
The situation becomes even more dire when children hang in the balance, as in New York. Kids become the collateral damage when the government shuts down agencies over their beliefs.
Unfortunately, what has happened in Buffalo is no isolated incident.
Earlier this year, the city of Philadelphia canceled its contracts with Catholic Social Services due to its religious beliefs about marriage, displacing hundreds of children in the process.
Meanwhile, the ACLU and Lambda Legal are litigating in Michigan and Texas in hopes of making these shutdowns the new normal nationwide.
Shamber Flore, a young woman who was adopted through St. Vincent’s Catholic Charities in Michigan—the agency being sued by the ACLU in Michigan—is speaking out on the real cost of shutting down faith-based agencies.
St. Vincent’s changed Shamber’s life. Her mother was a prostitute and her father was abusive and largely absent. Then, St. Vincent’s placed Shamber with the Flore family, and her new home enabled her to heal.
“I grew up exposed to prostitution, poverty, and drugs, but thankfully and fortunately my story didn’t end there,” she said in a statement. “I have had the privilege of having my story rewritten and I know this wouldn’t have been possible without the help and aid of St. Vincent.”
“[Foster children] deserve more people, more agencies, more open hearts to fill the shortage of families willing to care for kids like myself. If the ACLU has its way, there will be less helping hands, less homes and ultimately less hope for foster kids, and we can’t let the ACLU take that away.”
What the ACLU hopes to achieve in Michigan has already come to pass in other states.
California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., have already driven out religious providers through similar policies. They did so even though religious agencies are unique assets to the child welfare system, with great track records for overall recruitment and for finding homes for difficult to place children.
Some states and localities have gone beyond canceling contracts with religious agencies and simply refuse to license them altogether. With these agencies unable to even do pro bono work, states lose agencies whose private donors have helped subsidize the already-strained system. These shutdowns have left states with fewer hands to meet the needs of kids. The timing could not be worse, as the opioid epidemic has sent 92,000 children and counting into the system.
Closing down these agencies did not help a single child find a home. Nor did leaving those agencies open prevent a single LGBT person from adopting, as such adoptions are legal across all 50 states.
There is nothing to gain from closing down faith-based agencies, but there is much to lose. When religious agencies go out of business, children suffer.
A line must be drawn in Buffalo. No more agency shutdowns. The future of our children depends on it.