The Good of Faith-Based Adoption Agencies

The Good of Faith-Based Adoption Agencies

2018 | Week of June 11 | #1259

Just how important are faith-based agencies in child welfare, especially when it comes to adoption?  We’ve had such organizations around for so long and been so blessed by them that too often we take them for granted. We shouldn’t.  Laws and court cases dealing with religious freedom could make it harder for these agencies to continue to operate.

In 2004, shortly after the Massachusetts Supreme Judiciary forced same-sex marriage on the entire state, Catholic Charities of Boston was forced to shut down because they refused to compromise their religious beliefs and place children with same-sex couples. Later, agencies in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Illinois were similarly closed; and earlier this year, Philadelphia announced it was suspending placements with Catholic Social Services and Bethany Christian Services pending an investigation regarding possible violations of the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance which involves so-called discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons.

Seeing the handwriting on the wall, especially after the US Supreme Court forced same-sex marriage on all states in June of 2015, a number of states started taking a look at what could be done to protect these valuable faith-based agencies. In recent years, nine states have passed laws to exempt these agencies from having to choose between violating their religious beliefs or not placing children who desperately need a forever earthly family. The two most recent states are Kansas and Oklahoma. Wisconsin is not one of the nine.

While Wisconsin law does not currently clearly protect these faith-based agencies, we do have them—and they are regularly part of helping to protect the best interests of children, both in foster-care based adoptions and private adoptions. It would be disastrous if they could not continue their work.

Bolstering these faith-based agencies is a new report published in May by The Heritage Foundation and authored by Natalie Goodnow, a Research Fellow at Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.  The report is available at

Goodnow points out that these private-sector agencies are effective and efficient, often more so than the state agencies, noting that “in the 1990s, the majority of states increased their reliance on private providers…partly to improve the cost and quality of services.” In most states, the faith-based providers have been able to have some type of relationship with the state and its child welfare systems. These faith-based providers can often supplement the money that is available from the state for foster families, covering items state money doesn’t.[1]

In addition, faith-based agencies, as Goodnow notes, sometimes “excel at placing children who may have a more difficult time finding adoptive homes, including older children, sibling groups and children with special needs.”[2]

At a time when the nationwide number of children in foster care has been rising sharply, at least in part due to the opioid crisis, making it difficult for faith-based agencies to operate is wrong-headed and hurts children—the very ones the government is supposed to be helping.

As Goodnow says, “[p]reventing FBAs from serving their communities—which many have been doing for decades, some for over 100 years—by providing foster care and adoption services because of their sincerely held religious beliefs is not a win. It only places a greater strain on other agencies….The population that bears the consequences of this cost is the children in foster care….Forcing out FBAs undercuts communities rather than building them up….”[3]

I’m grateful our friends at WILL commissioned this research project and that Heritage has published it.  Children need forever families, and the state ought to be looking at utilizing every possible means to accomplish that worthy objective.  That some faith-based agencies sincerely—and rightly—believe that it is best for children to have a married mom, female, and dad, male—and hold to that belief in their placement policies should not preclude them from being part of the adoption process in our state.

Religious freedom as guaranteed in the First Amendment of our US Constitution was never intended to be a means by which faith-based organizations and individuals are bludgeoned. The Free Exercise clause most definitely extends to faith-based groups working for the best interest of children while strong holding to their religious convictions. Hopefully Wisconsin will take steps to ensure that the faith-based agencies doing amazing work in our state can continue for decades to come in giving children the gift of a forever earthly family.

This is Julaine Appling with Wisconsin Family Council, reminding you the Prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”


[2] Ibid.


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