Faith-Based Discrimination Bill Stripped from House Appropriations

Rep. Robert Aderholt’s amendment permitting discrimination by faith-based child welfare providers was stripped from the spending bill for the Department of Health and Human Services this week.

A bill that would enable faith-based child welfare providers to choose what families to serve based on religious beliefs, introduced into the House appropriations process in July, was removed from a spending bill before it passed this week.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), essentially attached The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act (H.R. 1881) to the Department of Health and Human Services spending bill. That piece of legislation, which has been offered for several years by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn.), aims to protect faith-based groups that want to work with foster parents and/or foster youth, but only if allowed to reject same-sex couples, single people or those who identify as LGBTQ.

H.R. 1881 would empower HHS to dock 15 percent of a state’s major child welfare allocations if it took “adverse action” against “a child welfare service provider on the basis that the provider has declined or will decline to provide, facilitate or refer for a child welfare service that conflicts with, or under circumstances that conflict with, the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

The amendment would codify in federal policy the protections that have been signed into law in several states since the 2015 Supreme Court decision that established same-sex marriage as the law of the land.

Since that ruling, nine states have passed laws that shield from penalty any faith-based provider with state contracts that wishes to choose clients based on religious beliefs. Those states are: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Michigan, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia.
At the center of the issue is recruitment of foster and adoptive parents. Both are in high demand as the number of youth in foster care has continued to rise – faith-based recruitment and increased recruitment within the LGBTQ community are sources of massive potential in increasing the number of available caregivers.
Denise Brogan-Kator, chief policy officer for Family Equality Council, said her organization had mobilized 300 organizations to opposed the amendment.
“The Aderholt amendment had broken the cardinal rule of child welfare  —  that the needs of children should come first,” said Brogan-Kator, in a statement issued yesterday.
The amendment “would have inserted bigotry and discrimination into our foster care and adoption systems,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro. “Children deserve to live in safe, happy, and healthy permanent homes, and their best interests should always be placed first.”

Aderholt is one of the four co-chairs of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption. He was opposed in this effort by his fellow House co-chair, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.).

“Same-sex couples are four times more likely to adopt, but increasing barriers for willing families only denies these vulnerable children a permanent home,” Lawrence said, in an email to The Imprint in July. “Furthermore, minority families and especially communities of color will likely be disproportionately affected.”

A group of 40 Democrat senators sent a letter to Republican leaders on the chamber’s appropriations committee, opposing inclusion of the provision in the Senate spending bills.

Enzi and Kelly have also pushed the Trump administration to use executive powers to shield faith-based providers. Among the recommendations they made in a letter to the administration: Rescinding two current federal policies that require HHS funding recipients not to discriminate in the administration of the money, and require recipients to recognize same-sex marriages.

The letter said the two policies “wrongfully target faith-based child placing agencies.”

If you are interested in reading more about federal child welfare and juvenile justice policy, read our annual special issue “Kids on the Hill: A Special Issue on Child Welfare Policy” by clicking here!

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