“Their Faith Is Not Supportive”
The latest insult to religious liberty comes from a case in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where state agencies have determined that devout religious families should not foster children. The state upholds this position despite an ongoing foster care crisis resulting in more than 1,500 vulnerable minors living unplaced, often in state agencies and even in hospital rooms for indeterminate periods.
By all accounts, Mike and Kitty Burke are an upstanding couple. Mike is an Iraq war veteran and Kitty has worked with special-needs children. Both are practicing Catholics, regularly attend church and perform as musicians during services. The pair long wanted to be parents but, like so many others, found themselves unable to conceive. Willing to open their home to children of all racial backgrounds and needs, they contacted the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families to begin the foster parent application process.
In October 2022, the Burkes underwent home interviews – a standard procedure in which a License and Training Social Worker assesses whether a family can provide “loving child-specific environments while helping to facilitate permanency for the child through reunification or adoption.” In these circumstances, a social worker subjectively evaluates a prospective parent’s fitness based on DCF’s “Standards for Licensure as a Foster/Pre-adoptive Parent.” Following that assessment, a License Review Team makes a final licensure decision based on its own understanding of a family’s fitness.
According to court documents, the Burkes’ interview focused disproportionately on their religious beliefs about gender and sexuality. The couple made it clear – they would love and support a child under their care regardless of that child’s sexual orientation or gender identity. They also maintained they would continue to uphold their personal beliefs on marriage and sexuality as traditionally understood by the Catholic Church.
Their response apparently didn’t satisfy the social worker. As she wrote in her report, “their faith is not supportive and neither are they.” The DCF subsequently denied the Burkes’ application, destroying the couple’s hopes of becoming foster parents and helping children who desperately need a home instead of a hospital bed.
Such pointless government attacks on conventional religions are increasingly common.
These attacks continue despite the fact that the underlying issue is well-trodden ground in the courts.
As recently as 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Catholic charities cannot be excluded from state foster care systems on the basis of their beliefs. Massachusetts’ Foster Parent Bill of Rights prohibits the denial of prospective foster families on the basis of religion (protecting “prospective foster … parents during the application process” from discrimination “on the basis of religion”) – as do DCF’s own policies.
Yet, the agency’s requirement that foster parents support and respect “a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity” has now been interpreted as an immutable ban against any religious person who holds traditional beliefs – be they Muslim, Orthodox Jew, Catholic, or Protestant – from becoming a foster parent. It’s a clear-cut violation of the Free Exercise Clause as well as First Amendment prohibitions against compelled speech.
DCF’s social workers are free to have their own preferred views on gender and sexuality. They are free to place children in homes with parents with more progressive views. But they are constitutionally and statutorily prohibited from requiring people of faith to choose between violating their beliefs or losing access to a program to do good.