Members of Congress, Faith, Child Welfare, and LGBTQ Communities Speak Out Against Adoption Discrimination

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Members of Congress and faith, child welfare and LGBTQ organizational members of the Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign spoke out in one voice today in firm opposition to the Trump administration’s steps to allow taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate based on religious beliefs.

Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney, Angie Craig, and Katie Hill released a letter signed by 95 House members opposing the Department of Health and Human Services’ January 23 waiver allowing South Carolina faith-based child placing agencies to turn away Jewish foster parent and mentor applicants as well as others who are secular or of a faith differing from the agency’s.

The letter opposing government-sanctioned discrimination in foster care and adoption based on religion was released in the wake of President Trump’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast last week in support of continuing federal funding to an agency that turns away same-sex couples applying to be foster and adoptive parents in violation of HHS’ nondiscrimination policies. Also last week, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration plans to propose sweeping authorization for faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate in child welfare services in a manner similar to that proposed in the Aderholt Amendment passed by the House of Representatives last year. That legislation would have allowed service denials to children and prospective parents based on an agency’s religious beliefs, and was ultimately stripped from the 2019 budget by a House-Senate conference committee.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY–18), the first and only out member of Congress from New York and a father of three said: “Our goal should be finding loving parents for kids who need them – that’s all that matters. This isn’t about religious freedom – it’s a taxpayer-funded license to discriminate that will only hurt people – the innocent children who need a good home and the parents who are ready, willing, and able to provide one but are turned away.”

The Rev. Stan J. Sloan, CEO of Family Equality Council, said: “We are grateful to members of Congress for standing with the faith, child welfare, and LGBTQ communities to say ‘no’ to discrimination in foster care and adoption, thus ensuring that America’s 440,000 foster children are not needlessly denied the loving, supportive families they deserve. We must protect the most vulnerable among us, and we know that religious minority and LGBTQ foster children suffer particular harms when families that affirm and support their identities are turned away.”

Rabbi Jack Moline, President of Interfaith Alliance, stated: “By granting [the South Carolina] waiver, HHS has placed the full weight of the federal government behind policies that presume there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ religion – exactly the type of religious favoritism the Establishment Clause prohibits. Congress cannot stand idly by as foster youth, people of different faiths, and LGBTQ prospective parents bear the burden of state-sponsored discrimination.”

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said: “The Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to allow religious discrimination in federally-funded foster care programs violates the separation of church and state. As Jews, we know the dangers of state-sanctioned religious discrimination and the threat it poses to religious minorities and other marginalized groups. The government must focus on providing safe and loving homes to children in need, rather than turning away qualified parents.”

Chris James-Brown, President & CEO of Child Welfare League of America, stated: “We recognize and support the critical and important role that religious-affiliated agencies have played and continue to play in our nation’s human services programs. The decision by HHS, however, would offer broad authority to violate the central principle of the nation’s child welfare system by not placing the best interest of children and youth first. As the CWLA National Blueprint states: ‘we should work together to protect all children, youth, and families from discrimination on the basis of race, color, age, disability, gender, familial status, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, language, religion, national, ethnic or social origin, political beliefs, or citizenship.’”

Leslie Cooper, Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT & HIV Project, said:  “Prospective foster and adoptive parents should be judged only on their capacity to provide love and support to a child — not a religious litmus test. Many of the over 400,000 children in foster care are living in group homes, are separated from siblings, or will age out of foster care without ever becoming part of a family because of the shortage of foster and adoptive families to care for them. The Trump administration should be working to find more homes for kids who need them — not pushing qualified parents away.”

Brian Bond, Executive Director of PFLAG National, said: “Discrimination of any kind is wrong, and when that discrimination will leave thousands of children languishing in foster care without families, it is shameful. We support the work of the many religiously affiliated agencies that have placed thousands of children with loving foster and adoptive PFLAG parents — and have done so without discriminating against them based on their faith tradition, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. HHS and the Trump Administration must do right by these children — all of whom deserve a loving family — and not significantly cut the number of potentially qualified adoptive and foster parents by granting a license to discriminate.”

M. Currey Cook, Counsel and Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project Director at Lambda Legal said: “In our nation’s child welfare system, states are legally obligated to ensure the safety, well-being, and right to a permanent home of children in their care. President Trump’s and HHS’s support for government-funded agencies who turn away potential foster or adoptive parents or deny children mentors directly contradicts those legal obligations. And they shamefully and harmfully send the government-endorsed message to LGBTQ youth in care and those of minority faiths that they are less-than in the eyes of the law – putting additional stigma on those who already face so much.”

In addition to the letter’s signatories, many Representatives, including those leading committees of jurisdiction over HHS’ child welfare programs have made strong statements opposing the waiver HHS has issued to South Carolina, including:

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About Family Equality Council

Family Equality Council advances legal and lived equality for LGBTQ families, and for those who wish to form them, through building community, changing hearts and minds, and driving policy change. Family Equality Council believes every LGBTQ person should have the right and opportunity to form and sustain a loving family, regardless of who they are or where they live. Learn more at

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