Opinion: Adoptions could be in crisis as ‘religious freedoms’ run wild

In 1969, my two siblings and I were adopted by a lovely couple who happened to be of a different religion.

My parents had died of illness within a year and a half of each other: we were separated, in the care of friends and foster families. I was 9, my sister Connie was 5, and my brother Doug was almost 11. My oldest brother, Jeff, was over 18 and left alone.

Word of mouth in our Dallas community reached the news that there were three siblings available for adoption, Bill and June Price. The Price—who was a Christian—were already trying to adopt a baby and didn’t hesitate to bring us together to live as a family.

The awards were dedicated to ensuring that we were aware of our Jewish heritage and traditions. They enrolled us in Jewish schools, took us to the synagogue for the Sabbath, and began to celebrate the Jewish holidays in our home. Their commitment to recognize and embrace our Judaism continued when we eventually moved to Atlanta.

Today, as a lawyer and member of the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) board of directors, I am overcome with sadness and dismay as I see increasing efforts across the country that could lead to a ban on interfaith adoptions or the use of religion as a reason for denying adoption rights to LGBTQ parents. I’m particularly alarmed by the law that would protect agencies that deny a couple the ability to adopt a child based on the agency’s religious beliefs, rather than the adopting couple’s ability to provide necessary care and love. to a needy child.

I’ll share a few examples here:

Since April of this year, Arizona has a new law “protecting” foster and adoption agencies from religious discrimination, exempting them from any responsibility for how they provide or refuse services in accordance with their religious beliefs. The legislation, Senate Bill 1399, was deliberately defended as a preventive “shield” for faith-based agencies in Arizona after agencies in other states were forced to abide by non-discrimination laws.

In Tennessee, judges dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Knoxville couple who alleged that a state-sponsored Christian adoption agency refused to help them because they are Jewish. The lawsuit challenged a 2020 state policy that instituted legal protections for private adoption agencies to deny state-funded child placement to parents based on religious beliefs.

In South Carolina, a same-sex married couple was refused entry into a federally funded foster care program by a Christian ministry. Advocacy groups eventually filed a lawsuit on behalf of the couple — that case is still pending.

If pointless restrictions like this had been introduced in Dallas in 1969, my parents might not have been able to adopt Doug, Connie, and me.

It’s already hard to find families willing to adopt older children, especially a group of siblings, so potential laws of this kind would only break, not strengthen, families.

I ask proponents of potential laws like this: What’s your primary goal? Shouldn’t we put the best interests of children first? Shouldn’t we focus on having children in loving families? Why should religion be a determining factor?

From our perspective at ADL, government agencies that provide these services should not be able to twist the original intent of religious freedom in America into something that is harmful to children. When they do, such policies all too often open the door to actions motivated by anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic, xenophobic and other exclusionary beliefs. ADL firmly believes that the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom is a shield for the faith, not a sword for discrimination. To that end, we are closely monitoring legislative efforts across the country that would use the idea of ​​religious freedoms as a weapon.

ADL has filed or joined amicus brief in nearly every major religious freedom case before the U.S. Supreme Court and countless other courts across the country since 1948.

ADL has been a tireless advocate in Congress and the state legislature for laws that prohibit religious discrimination and provide appropriate accommodations for religiously observant people. We strongly oppose measures that would indoctrinate or coerce religion into our country’s public schools. We oppose the use of religious freedom to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals, Jews, Muslims, women or marginalized communities. Maintaining separation of church and state has been central to our work since ADL was founded in 1913.

The gift of adopting a Christian family to my Jewish family was so personal and important to me. We must protect this right.

We ask everyone to do their part to be an ally. Join us in this effort to be a watchdog for preventing discrimination, promoting religious freedom and protecting the plight of the most vulnerable in our society: children in need of adoptive parents.

Editor’s Note: Liz Price received the Elbert P. Tuttle Jurisprudence Award for her work “ensuring justice and fair treatment for all” at the 25th Annual Luncheon of the ADL Jurisprudence Awards on September 15, 2022.

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