Faith and foster care

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Thursday the 25th of April, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up: foster care and religious faith.

Same-sex marriage became the law of the land in 2015.

That’s when LGBT activists put faith-based foster care agencies in their crosshairs. For these agencies, placing children into families that share their religious beliefs is important.

But the Obama administration didn’t think so. In 2017 it added sexual orientation to the list of things agencies cannot consider in child placement. Now LGBT activists are using that to close these organizations down.

EICHER: Some states have exemptions to that federal rule.

Elected officials in South Carolina asked the Trump administration for a waiver, and the White House obliged.

The administration will grant waivers only for states whose elected officials specifically request them.

Michigan is not one of those states. Last month its attorney general ordered faith-based agencies to work with LGBT couples.

REICHARD: But one agency is now challenging that in court: St. Vincent Catholic Charities, along with one of its foster families.

Here to talk about the case is Nick Reaves. He’s a lawyer with Becket, the religious liberty law firm representing the challengers.

REICHARD: Good morning, Nick!

NICK REAVES, GUEST: Good morning! Thanks for having me.

REICHARD: Start by telling us a little bit about your client. How long has St. Vincent been partnering with the state foster care system and how effective is it at finding homes for children?

REAVES: Sure. St. Vincent has been providing foster care to the state of Michigan and to children in need for over 70 years and they’ve had three-year contracts renewed with the state for decades as well. And they’re actually one of the most successful agencies in the state at providing homes for children with disabilities or older children who might not otherwise be placed in a loving home.

REICHARD: Michigan had protections in place faith-based foster care agencies since what 2015. What changed?

REAVES: That’s right. So, in 2015 the Michigan legislature passed a really great law that recognized the value of these faith-based organizations and protected them and said if a same-sex couple comes to you, what you can do is you can explain to them your religious beliefs and then give them a list of other agencies nearby and refer them to another agency that can work with them. But then just about a month ago, the state, the new attorney general, and the state took the position that that referral process for faith-based organizations was actually no longer okay and violated both the state law and some federal regulations as well. So they’re threatening to stop contracting with organizations like St. Vincent.

REICHARD: Becket filed the case against the attorney general in federal court. That means it could eventually have an effect beyond Michigan. Where else is this happening to faith-based agencies and how this might help?

REAVES: That’s right. So, we’re seeing this happening in multiple states. We have a current lawsuit dealing with the situation in Philadelphia, obviously within Pennsylvania, all the agencies in Illinois had to close down several years ago as they did in Washington, D.C., and Boston, Massachusetts. In terms of the impact this case could have, yes, it is in federal court, which means that it could set precedent across the country or even more geographically maybe in the states covered by the 6th Circuit where this case is being litigated. And I think a win here would show that it’s not constitutional to kick out organizations just because you might disagree with their religious beliefs.

REICHARD: What does this fight mean for religious liberty in the United States overall?

REAVES: I think recognizing that we all can coexist is a really important component of this. It’s not an attempt to prevent anyone from becoming a foster parent. And St. Vincent would never do anything to stop a same-sex couple from adopting or fostering children in need. It’s really about them being able to provide their important service alongside of an array of other organizations that have similar specializations. Some might only serve African-American children or some might only provide services to children with disabilities. There are some group homes that specifically work with boys or with girls and there’s one organization that contracts with the state that specifically is intended to care for LGBTQ youth. So having this diverse array of state contractors and organizations that help these kids in need is really important.

REICHARD: Do you think this issue will eventually end up at the Supreme Court?

REAVES: I think so. In our Philadelphia case we’d filed a bit of an unusual expedited request to the Supreme Court. It didn’t really resolve the case, but three justices—when it was an eight member court—said we had a clear right to relief on the merits of our case. And that’s a really good sign and a sign that the Supreme Court is paying attention to these issues.

REICHARD: Nick Reaves is an attorney with the religious liberty law firm Becket. Thanks for joining us today!

REAVES: No problem. Happy to be here.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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