June 24, 2020

WASHINGTON — President Trump today signed an executive order related to the child welfare system. The order authorizes funding for the Department of Health and Human Services and encourages state governments to develop partnerships with faith-based agencies.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on a related issue this fall in a case involving a Philadelphia foster care agency. The case was brought by Catholic Social Services, which objects to working with same-sex couples. The American Civil Liberties Union is counsel in the case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.

Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, had the following response:

“What hypocrisy! While the Trump administration talks about the need for more foster parents, it is making arguments at the Supreme Court and authorizing discrimination in federally funded foster care programs that could result in many prospective parents being turned away by agencies for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability to care for a child. The best way to recruit additional parents to provide homes for the over 400,000 children in the child welfare system across the country is to ensure that foster care agencies put the best interests of the children in their care first and welcome every family that is willing and able to provide a loving home to a child.

“State governments that provide taxpayer dollars to foster care agencies — including faith-based agencies — should know that religion is not a license to discriminate. Agencies providing child welfare services on behalf of the government must put the needs of children first. Turning away prospective foster families because of their sexual orientation, faith, or any other reason unrelated to the ability to support a child limits the families available for children.”

Major child welfare professional organizations, faith leaders, and religious organizations have urged federal courts to reject efforts to force the government to allow taxpayer-funded foster care agencies to turn away prospective parents who are LGBTQ, Jewish or Muslim, or otherwise fail to meet a the religious requirements of an agency. Last year, a federal appeals court rejected this claim against the city of Philadelphia brought by Catholic Social Services, which objects to certifying foster families headed by same-sex couples and is claiming a constitutional right to be exempt from the city’s nondiscrimination requirement that applies to all city-contracted foster care agencies.

That case is now pending before the Supreme Court and the Trump administration submitted a brief siding with Catholic Social Services.

The Trump administration has also given permission to the state of South Carolina to provide federal funds to a child welfare agency that will only accept evangelical Protestant Christian families and has turned away prospective foster parents for being Jewish or Catholic. More recently, it rescinded a nondiscrimination rule that prohibited federal funding to agencies that discriminate. The ACLU and Lambda Legal have sued on behalf of a same-sex couple seeking to foster children in South Carolina.

Responses to common arguments for allowing discrimination in the child welfare system are here: https://www.aclu.org/news/lgbt-rights/will-the-supreme-court-sanction-the-use-of-a-religious-litmus-test-for-foster-parents/

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