Moore praises HHS steps on foster care, adoption

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WASHINGTON (BP) -- Southern Baptist religious freedom leader Russell Moore has praised new Trump administration actions designed to restore protections for faith-based foster-care and adoption agencies that operate by biblical convictions.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued Nov. 1 a proposed rule that revises an Obama-era regulation by ensuring religious freedom is guaranteed in its grant programs. The new rule requires HHS grant recipients to abide by federal nondiscrimination laws, and it says HHS must comply with U.S. Supreme Court opinions. The HHS also published on the same day a notice it would not enforce specific provisions in the Obama administration rule because of concerns about its implementation.

In an opinion piece published Monday (Nov. 4) in The Wall Street Journal, Moore commended the HHS actions, saying the new regulation "ensures that no one is kept from serving, while ending an attempt to stop religious organizations from doing so consistent with their convictions."

"It's a welcome statement that the child-welfare system is about the welfare of children -- not proxy culture wars," wrote Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

The Obama administration rule, finalized only nine days before President Donald Trump was inaugurated in January 2017, had the effect of prohibiting many evangelical Christian and Roman Catholic organizations from participating in federal child-welfare programs. The regulation affected agencies that believe marriage is only between a man and a woman and therefore decline to place children in the homes of same-sex couples.

The ERLC has made a federal solution to the problem -- which also has been manifested at state and local levels -- a priority in its legislative agenda. It has worked for adoption of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, which would bar government discrimination against agencies that provide foster care and adoption services on the basis of their convictions.

ERLC staff began working with administration officials and a broad coalition of faith-based groups to bring the HHS regulation in line with other federal nondiscrimination law after the Obama administration issued its final rule.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a Southern Baptist, thanked the Trump administration for its Nov. 1 actions.

"The government should not stand in the way of groups trying to find children a loving home by forcing them to abandon the same faith that drives them to care for these vulnerable children," he said in a written statement.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) -- the country's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization -- said the new rule would allow discrimination in another way.

"It is unconscionable that the Trump-Pence administration would prioritize advancing discrimination over the well-being of vulnerable people and expect taxpayers to foot the bill for their discriminatory policies," HRC President Alphonso David said in a written release.

In his column for The Wall Street Journal, Moore said the Trump administration's Nov. 1 actions served as a "major step toward addressing the problem" of the government stopping Christians from seeking to live out their convictions.

"As born-again Christians, we have been adopted by Christ and have a special obligation to those who need a mother and father," he wrote.

Catholics are three times as likely and evangelicals five times as likely to adopt, according to research by the Barna Group, Moore wrote. "One need not agree with [biblically based] beliefs to see that it is self-defeating for government to bar the participation of thousands of religious Americans from serving children in need because of their theological convictions."

The United States "faces a crisis when it comes to children," Moore wrote. "The foster-care system is burdened, with children who need parents enduring tragically long waits for placement. Genuine civic pluralism means everyone -- secularists, atheists and agnostics, along with religious people of all sorts -- should care about these children. Why exclude those who are the most motivated?"

Government policies in the last two years in Michigan and Philadelphia have barred faith-based agencies from participating in public adoption and foster-care programs. In a September ruling, a federal judge blocked Michigan from canceling the state-approved contract of St. Vincent Catholic Charities to provide foster care and adoption services. The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled in April the city of Philadelphia did not violate the religious liberty of Catholic Social Services (CSS) in deciding to halt referrals to the agency for foster homes licensed by CSS.

In addition to Michigan, eight states and the District of Columbia have laws or policies that require child welfare agencies to place children with same-sex couples in adoption, foster care or both, according to the Movement Advancement Project (MAP). They are California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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