Chris Lange, FISM News
Nineteen Republican attorneys general, led by Steve Marshall of Alabama, joined forces this week to oppose a new foster care rule proposed by the Biden administration that will effectively bar Christians from becoming foster parents and shutter faith-based placement agencies.
The group sent a joint letter to the Administration on Children, Youth and Families Administration for Children and Families and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday in which they assert that the new rule, titled Safe and Appropriate Foster Care Placement Requirements, not only threatens the stability of the nation’s foster care system but also infringes on the religious freedoms of Christian families.
The crux of the issue is a requirement in the rule that foster families and parents must honor a foster child’s choice of name and pronouns that correspond with their preferred gender identity.
The rule will further require prospective foster parents to “establish an environment free of hostility, mistreatment, or abuse based on the child’s LGBTQI+ status.”
Under the new Titles IV-E and IV-B guidance, prospective foster parents will be required to undergo training “to be prepared with the appropriate knowledge and skills to provide for the needs of the child related to the child’s self-identified sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”
The proposed rule change, announced by the Children and Families Administration in September, specifically states: “To ensure agencies meet these and other related statutory requirements, [the Administration for Children and Families (ACF)] proposes to specify the steps agencies must take when implementing the case plan and case review requirements for children in foster care who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, as well as children who are non-binary, or have non-conforming gender identity or expression.”
A public comment period ended on Monday.
‘THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE SEARCHING FOR WAYS TO INCREASE THE NUMBER OF FOSTER HOMES, NOT DECREASE THEM’
The AGs asserted that the rule would result in a “critical lack of placement options” for children in the foster care system. The letter notes that HHS expects the number of children in the foster care system to increase to roughly 416,500 by 2027. There were 391,000 children in foster care in 2022.
“State foster care systems already are stretched to capacity,” they wrote, referencing reports that foster children in states like North Carolina and Missouri are sleeping in jails, hospitals, and social services offices due to a critical lack of suitable foster homes.
“Reducing the number of individuals and organizations of faith in the foster care system will only exacerbate these problems,” they continued, adding that the rule will also disrupt sibling placements and strain state resources.
“These injuries will be suffered while HHS fails to solve a problem that the proposed rule does not even prove exists in foster care,” the AGs wrote.
The missive references a 2013 Barna study which found that practicing Christians are three times more likely to seriously consider becoming foster parents than the general population. A 2002 study referenced in the letter indicated that foster parents who received placements from churches and other faith-based groups fostered children 2.6 years longer than foster parents who used secular agencies.
The AGs also referenced a 2020 report from the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBT research group, showing that 40% of government-contracted child placement agencies are faith-based.
‘OUR VALUES ARE NOT FOR SALE’
The attorneys general argue that the Biden administration’s new rule openly discriminates against Christians and reference the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia in which the Bench ruled that Philadelphia’s refusal to work with a Catholic Social Services (CSS) group that refused to certify same-sex couples as foster parents was a violation of the First Amendment.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the unanimous decision that CSS had a longstanding contractual agreement with the city of Philadelphia to provide foster care placement services and found that the city had no “compelling interest in refusing to contract with CSS.” The Bench further concluded that “CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.”
“Joe Biden continues to harass our State and others like it by implicitly threatening to withhold federal funding for children in need if we do not conform to his ideology, but our values are not for sale,” Marshall said in a press release. He also pointed out the significant role faith-based organizations have played in foster care placements.
“Since the first century, Christians across the globe have answered the call to provide a home and a family to children who had neither,” he said.
The letter was also signed by the attorneys general of Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
REPUBLICAN SENATORS INTRODUCE BILL TO PROTECT FAITH-BASED CHILD WELFARE AGENCIES FROM DISCRIMINATION
Meanwhile, a group of 17 Republican senators on Tuesday introduced legislation to protect child welfare providers from discrimination based on their religious beliefs. The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act would bar “federal, state, and local government agencies that receive federal adoption assistance funding from discriminating against child welfare service providers based on the providers’ unwillingness to take action contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
“Faith-based foster care organizations have provided reliable, effective resources to countless families and children with nowhere else to go,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in a press release announcing the legislation. “Despite their success, President Biden has caved to the far-left, making it harder for these organizations to provide critical services and leaving the kids who need them most out in the cold.”
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is among several groups endorsing the legislation.
“This proposed rulemaking discriminates against religious and faith-based foster care providers by forcing such organizations to choose between their deeply held convictions and their desire to live out their faith by caring for some of the most vulnerable children in our society,” ERLC President Brent Leatherwood wrote in a letter.
He added that, despite the HHS’s insistence that the new rule does not infringe on First Amendment religious protections, “the Department is functionally enforcing such discrimination by relying on the false assumption that only ‘affirmation’ of a child’s LGBTQ beliefs is ‘safe and proper.’ Contrary to such assertions by HHS, a foster family should not have to agree with every political, spiritual, and other belief of a child to be deemed ‘safe and proper.’”
The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Roger Marshall (R-Kansas), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.), and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).