Legislative Update

Reviving religious liberty

By Tom Venzor   

In recent years, attempts at advancing religious liberty legislation, including in Nebraska, have faced fierce opposition, especially from LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) organizations. These efforts to protect our “first, most cherished liberty” have garnered mixed results of successes and defeats.

In the last weeks, Kansas and Oklahoma successfully passed religious liberty protections for foster care and adoption agencies. They join at least nine other states which have implemented similar religious liberty protections. At a time when our country struggles to meet the increasing demand of vulnerable children who desire loving homes, ensuring that we protect faith-based providers from being discriminated against by the government because of their religious or moral convictions is essential to the common good.

Over the last decade, faith-based foster care and adoption agencies, especially Catholic Charities, have encountered vehement opposition to living out their faith of serving children in need. This opposition has come through the implementation of so-called non-discrimination policies that prohibit sexual orientation non-discrimination. The push for such policies have been part and parcel to the movement to normalize and legalize same-sex relationships and marriages.

These non-discrimination policies have forced non-profit foster care and adoption agencies that must be licensed by the state to serve vulnerable and needy children to make a fundamental decision about their operations: either be willing to place children within family structures that violate your professional judgment, conscience beliefs, or sincerely held religious beliefs, or get out of foster care and adoption services altogether.

Faced with such a dilemma, several Catholic Charities have had to shut their doors to placing children with loving families. In 2006, Catholic Charities of Boston—one of the nation’s oldest adoption agencies—was forced to shut down its adoption services. Also, in 2006, Catholic Charities in San Francisco was forced to end their adoption services. In 2010, the redefinition of marriage in Washington, D.C., led the District to inform Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington that they would no longer be eligible as a foster care and adoption agency. In 2011, Catholic Charities programs in Illinois shut their doors instead of violating their conscience.

In 2016, the Nebraska Catholic Conference supported LB975—the Child Welfare Services Preservation Act—introduced and prioritized by Sen. Mark Kolterman. While agencies in Nebraska were not under any present threat at the time, faith-based agencies clearly saw the threats in other states and desired to pro-actively implement religious liberty protections to ensure their freedom to serve vulnerable children seeking loving homes. Throughout the legislative process on this legislation, several organizations and state senators voiced deep animosity toward faith-based providers. These actions alone demonstrated the need for the legislation. Ultimately, the legislation was going to fall a couple votes short of overcoming a filibuster and was not debated.

Much of the treatment that has occurred in the foster care and adoption agency context in many jurisdictions verifies a statement that Justice Samuel Alito made in his dissenting opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges (the infamous Supreme Court case which fabricated the right to same-sex marriage in the U.S. Constitution). Justice Alito said: “I assume that those who cling to the old beliefs [about marriage as between one man and one woman] will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

The victories in Kansas and Oklahoma are important for a variety of reasons. They ensure that no child welfare provider should be prevented from serving children and families because the government does not like their religious beliefs. This ensures that society can better care for every child who deserves to find their “forever home” and be raised by a loving family. The victories are also important because, though brilliant as he may be, they disprove Justice Alito. The victories demonstrate that people who hold the reasonable and correct view of marriage will not be treated as hateful bigots, but instead will, at the least, be acknowledged as critical contributors to the common good, namely, keeping kids first and giving faith-based agencies the freedom to serve.

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