MCC: Don’t leave faith-based adoption agencies vulnerable

DETROIT — Faith-based adoption agencies in Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and California are closing their doors, but the Michigan Catholic Conference hopes to prevent this from happening in its own state.

To that end, the conference is urging state lawmakers to adopt legislation that would protect Catholic and other faith-based agencies from having to violate their moral principles in placing children.

“This is based on national trends that faith-based adoption agencies are being forced to choose between their religious mission and the requirements of the state,” said David Maluchnik, director of communications for the Michigan Catholic Conference.

Catholic adoption agencies in other states have been forced to close “because of new regulations that force them to operate outside of their faith-based mission,” he said, such as being compelled to adopt children to unmarried or same-sex couples. The proposed legislation would not prevent secular child-placement agencies from adopting children to such homes.

On Sept. 25, House Bills 4927 and 4928 were passed by the House Families, Children and Seniors Committee on a 6-2 vote. The bills are sponsored by state Reps. Ken Kurtz, R-Coldwater, and Andrea LaFontaine, R-Columbus Township.

The bills would recognize the conscience rights of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies, and would legally protect those agencies’ rights to continue operating according to their religious mission.
Maluchnik said the legislation would only protect what has already been the case in Michigan for decades, and wouldn’t change anything in terms of the way children are currently placed by secular or faith-based agencies.

“The legislation has been very much misunderstood and intentionally mischaracterized,” Maluchnik said. “We want to make sure that religious organizations are able to operate according to their faith-based mission without pressure from state-based entities,” said Maluchnik.

Maluchnik said religious agencies such as Catholic Charities serve the public good in many ways apart from child placement, including assisting refugees, feeding the hungry and providing necessary services to those in most need in their local communities.

Approximately 14,000 Michigan children are in foster care, with 3,000 available for adoption. Catholic agencies handle about 10 percent of these cases, and as much as 45 percent are handled by private nonprofit agencies.

“Catholic Charities and others like them are very much established in their communities,” said Maluchnik, adding that “it would be very difficult” for both the faith-based agencies and the community if the agencies were forced to uproot and close down.

Tom Hickson, Michigan Catholic Conference vice president for public policy and advocacy, said in a Sept. 11 press release that the state of Michigan and private faith-based agencies “have developed a highly functional and productive relationship on behalf of Michigan’s vulnerable children.”

Maluchnik said he believes “there is a very real possibility that we could be facing a real situation in the near future, and that is why we see the need for faith-based protection as soon as possible.”

Although Michigan enacted a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004, for example, similar bans in other states have been challenged at the federal level and via the ballot box. In Massachusetts, Catholic adoption agencies were forced to close because of a state law requiring it to place children with same-sex couples in light of the legality of same-sex marriage there.

Maluchnik said action alerts have been sent to the approximately 7,000 recipients on the conference’s Catholic Advocacy Network email list, encouraging citizens to contact their representatives.

But furthermore, he added, “it is definitely important to pray for religious liberty and speak to family and friends, making sure that religious liberty principles are respected and upheld in our society.”

The Michigan Catholic Conference is the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan. For more information, visit www.micatholic.org.