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Protect religious liberty—and expand help for foster children

Ericka Andersen | America desperately needs the services of religious foster care agencies

Justice Samuel Alito noted an “an acute shortage of foster parents” in his Fulton opinion. Erin Schaff/The New York Times via Associate Press (Pool)

Protect religious liberty—and expand help for foster children
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The COVID pandemic affected everyone, but foster care children have been particularly endangered. In some states, the shortage of foster families is devastating. One Georgia county has 116 kids in need of placements and only 14 families available. The trend is consistent across the country, despite advocacy for families during National Adoption Month this November.

And yet, some progressives continue to attempt to shut down religious foster care and adoption agencies that adhere to biblical principles on marriage and family. With more than 8,000 religious foster care and adoption agencies nationwide, protecting religious freedom is essential to enhancing the reach of these organizations and to caring for hundreds of thousands of children in need.

The good news is the Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of religious freedom in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case affirming the right of foster care providers that receive taxpayer money to abstain from working with same-sex couples. Justice Samuel Alito, in his opinion on the matter, noted that there is “an acute shortage of foster parents.”

There was a victory this time, but it won’t be the last case brought by activists who attempt to harass and force organizations to violate their sacred beliefs. Just last month a Tennessee woman sued the Department of Health and Human Services, claiming that a Christian organization was discriminating against her for being a lesbian.

As with many religious freedom cases, critics fail to acknowledge the availability of other options. There are secular foster care and adoption agencies happy to work with LGBTQ individuals. That is their right, just as it is the right of religious agencies to adhere to their own closely held beliefs.

“If the Court had ruled against religious foster care agencies [in the Fulton decision], it would have allowed the government to eliminate one of the largest providers of foster and adoptive families in the country,” said Darcy Olson, founder and CEO of Gen Justice, an organization dedicated to promoting state and federal policies that protect abused and abandoned children.

The lack of foster families is a moral crisis. In places like West Virginia, there are counties with five or fewer certified foster homes. In South Carolina, hundreds of teenagers await homes. And more than 43,000 children are living in institutional placements, rather than family homes, in the United States.

A study from October noted that 120,000 children in the United States have lost a caregiver during the pandemic. Given this severe level of need, there should be no question that the Courts must rule in favor of religious liberty in new cases that arise. If the concern here is children—rather than the hurt feelings of adults—then the only right choice is to uphold religious freedom and keep these organizations running at their highest capacity.

As the pandemic begins to fade, reports of abuse and neglect that were hidden due to lockdowns and quarantines will increase. Sadly, one of the consequences of COVID was the lack of oversight by teachers and other professionals who would normally recognize signs of abuse. One analysis reported an 18 percent decrease in the number of child abuse and neglect investigations in 2020. Now that children are back in school, the numbers are ticking up, and we need every single foster care agency available to help find safe placements for them.

With their religious freedom intact, groups like Catholic Charities and the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO), provide leadership. Christians have always been on the front lines of helping vulnerable children. Statistics show that Christians are the most generous people on the planet, but gaps remain and our country must empower everyone to help fill those gaps.

To be sure, it’s easy to see why some are frustrated by the policies of Christian organizations. Those who do not adhere to the same religious tenets will struggle to grasp why abiding by these biblical beliefs is so important to Christians. But our nation wasn’t built on the need to fully understand why someone believes something. Rather, it is designed with the radical idea of religious liberty for all, regardless of what they believe.

As Christians, we should support lawmakers who will create and protect policies that help children, while also upholding religious freedom. At a time like this, we need to seize every opportunity to give children the families they need to thrive.

Ericka Andersen

Ericka Andersen is a freelance writer and mother of two living in Indianapolis. She is the author of Leaving Cloud 9 and is currently writing a book on women and faith to be released in 2022. Ericka hosts the Worth Your Time podcast. She has been published in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Christianity Today, USA Today, and more.


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