The Word from Lansing: Preserving the Religious Liberty of Faith-Based Child Placement Agencies

Among the legislative issues under consideration in Lansing is a three-bill package to protect the religious liberty rights of faith-based child placement organizations. Michigan Catholic Conference strongly supports these bills as organizations that serve vulnerable members of their communities, such as Catholic Charities, require legal recognition of their conscience rights in order to sustain their relationship with the State well into the future. Simply put, the bills seek to place into law what has been practiced for well over 50 years: collaboration between non-public agencies and the State to license foster parents and to place adoptive children in loving homes.

Catholic agencies have provided invaluable community services in Michigan even prior to the State’s involvement in foster care and adoption. Pregnancy counseling, drug and alcohol counseling, homeless assistance and refugee resettlement are just a few of the services provided by the Church’s social service agencies. Their concern for vulnerable persons and the best interest of children has served Michigan well. Over the last several decades, Catholic and other faith-based agencies have partnered with the State to help more children find safe and loving environments. As a result of these and other non-public agencies, Michigan has been cited as a national model in terms of diversity in family services.

In March 2012, the Michigan Department of Human Services praised the State’s partnership with the faith community to provide adoption and foster care services, stating faith-based organizations are “committed to helping children in need.” Governor Snyder echoed these comments, referring to the partnership with the faith-based community as “a perfect way” to ensure Michigan children “[have] a chance at a real home.” Current policy is working to maintain the integrity of faith-based institutions. Placing effective practice into law is good public policy.

Michigan Catholic Conference recently testified before a legislative committee with local Catholic agencies on behalf of the proposed legislation. These bills do not change who can adopt children; rather, they ensure faith-based agencies are able to continue to live out their religious mission as they always have. Unfortunately, in other areas of the country, such as Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington DC, Catholic Charities agencies shut down child placement services after the State or city forced them to choose between acting contrary to their religious teaching or discontinuing services. This is a choice that should never have to be made in a country that was built upon religious freedom.

House Bills 4927-4928 and 4991 are not a Catholic issue, as other faith denominations support the bills. This policy, however, will directly impact the Catholic Church’s mission to serve Michigan’s children and is necessary to preserve the place of faith-based agencies in the process of uniting children with loving families. Every day Catholic organizations are living out their religious mission to help others, often serving those on the margins of society, including vulnerable children. Their work must be protected

Continued support will be needed in order to encourage elected officials at the State Capitol to take action on these important bills. Please visit [Link no longer available —Ed.] today to make your voice heard.