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Adoptive Religious Freedom Bill Languishes

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

A bill to protect the religious freedom of adoptive, foster care, and other agencies has gone nowhere in Congress.  The bill, H.R. 1881 also known as the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2017, seeks “To ensure that organizations with religious or moral convictions are allowed to continue to provide services for children.”

The spirit behind the bill is that many child welfare groups such as adoption agencies and other agencies that receive funding from the government are facing calls from the left to defund and discriminate against religiously based organizations for direct funding, grants, other monies.  To answer the religious discrimination, H.R. 1881 seeks:

“To prohibit governmental entities from discriminating or taking an adverse action against a child welfare service provider on the basis that the provider declines to provide a child welfare service that conflicts, or under circumstances that conflict, with the sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions of the provider.

(2) To protect child welfare service providers’ exercise of religion and to ensure that governmental entities will not be able to force those providers, either directly or indirectly, to discontinue all or some of their child welfare services because they decline to provide a child welfare service that conflicts, or under circumstances that conflict, with their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.

(3) To provide relief to child welfare service providers whose rights have been violated.

Further, if there are violations by a State government against an agency The Secretary of Health and Human services shall, according to H.R. 1881, 

“…withhold from a State 15 percent of the Federal funds the State receives for a program that provides child welfare services under part B or part E of title IV of the Social Security Act if the State violates section 3 when administering or disbursing funds under such program.”

The bill was introduced over a year ago on April 4, 2017 by Congressman Mike Kelly (Republican-Pennsylvania) and has 64 co-sponsors.  Every co-sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives is a Republican.

After its reading on the House Floor, H.R. 1881 was immediately referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and on April 17, 2017, the bill was referred to the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources where it still sits a year later.

There is a companion Senate bill, introduced by Senator Mike Enzi, which has 14 co-sponsors including Senators Ted Cruz, Tim Scott, Mike Lee, John Cornyn, Tom Cotton, James Lankford, and Jim Inhofe.  As with the House version, all Senate co-sponsors are Republican.

The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act is endorsed by Heritage Action, the Family Research Council, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Catholic Social Workers National Association.  However, there are enemies of the spirit of the legislation, including the ACLU.  As Joseph Bingham, counsel to First Liberty Institute has written, so radical is the opposition to the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act that even Mother Teresa would not have been banned from adoption if the ACLU had its way.    Bingham wrote:

“According to it (the ACLU), it’s better for no one to help a child in need than for a Catholic to help a child in need. This purge of religious adoption agencies has already taken place in Illinois, where activists successfully shut down Catholic Charities, displacing 3,000 children because they dare to share the same religious tradition that motivated Mother Teresa to care for the orphans of Calcutta.

Faith-based agencies like Catholic Charities are an essential element of a foster care system that needs more—not fewer—foster care providers, especially as the opioid crisis worsens.”

The time to move the House and Senate versions of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act out of committee and onto the floor is now, before the midterms.  For it is the religious freedom of adoption, foster, and other child welfare agencies that hang in the balance.

*Views expressed in this article are those of the author and not any government agency.

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