Public adoption/foster care agencies and private adoption agencies have been co-existing for decades. They each have specific focuses, advantages, and disadvantages, allowing both birth parents and prospective adoptive parents to choose which program they think will be the best fit for them. Christian adoption agencies in particular have proven to be very successful. For example, Nightlight Christian Adoptions served close to 14,000 adoptive families during the 2020 year. Because of their religious nature, Christian agencies have certain criteria for the families they approve, including marital status. The recent 9-0 Supreme Court ruling in the Fulton v. Philadelphia case affirmed that religious agencies like Catholic Social Services (CSS) must be treated equally to other secular organizations. However, even with this narrowly-worded win, the broader reality is that Christian adoption agencies have long been under attack in the U.S. and are continuing to fight this battle.
One of the agencies most targeted due to the redefinition of marriage has been Catholic Charities, which only places children in homes with a father and mother. In 2006, Catholic Charities of Boston was forced to shut down because of a state law that would force them to comply with laws barring “sexual orientation discrimination,” meaning that they would have been forced to violate deeply-held religious beliefs and place children in households with same-sex couples for both foster care and adoption. After their closure, adoptions in Massachusetts dropped by 28 percent in the following years. Soon after, Catholic Charities of San Francisco, the Archdiocese of Washington, and Illinois were forced to close as well. By forcing Catholic Charities to choose between violating their biblical beliefs and shutting down, the number of children waiting to be adopted increased by thousands.
The most absurd part of it all is that the prospective adoptive parents identifying as LGBTQ whom state non-discrimination laws protect are in fact not affected by religious agencies at all. During the oral arguments over Fulton v. Philadelphia, Justice Alito asked, “How many same-sex couples in Philadelphia have been denied the opportunity to be foster parents as a result of Catholic Social Services’ policy?” The response given by Lori Windham, who represented CSS, was simple: “Zero. In fact, Justice Alito, none have even approached Catholic Social Services asking for this approval and endorsement.” There is a plethora of other agencies without religious convictions that same-sex couples can go to for adoption services. Therefore, waging a battle against Christian organizations is clearly driven by an anti-religious agenda that results in more harm than help.
Unfortunately, it seems like the Fulton v. Philadelphia decision is unlikely to provide lasting protection to religious adoption agencies across the nation. The decision was mostly based off a provision of Philadelphia city law that stated that exceptions to Philadelphia’s non-discrimination policy could be overruled at the city commissioner’s discretion, which in this case is what the Supreme Court affirmed. However, the Court did not provide the ruling that CSS pushed for, which would allow a stricter scrutiny standard and an overturning of Employment Division v. Smith. The combination of this lack of protection and the caving of other religious adoption agencies does not bode well for the future of Christian adoption. As of March 2021, Bethany Christian Services, the largest Christian adoption agency in the U.S., announced that they would place children in non-traditional households for both foster care and adoption.
One of the fundamental tenets of America is the right to publicly live by religious values. To slowly strip that away does nothing but take away freedom and harm society’s most vulnerable children. As Christians, we must continue to pray for the religious liberty of adoption agencies like Catholic Charities and pray that they hold fast to their convictions.
Gabby Wiggins is a Brand Advancement intern at Family Research Council.