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  • Timothy Cockes

ERLC urges rescindment of proposed LGBTQ+ foster care regulation

NASHVILLE, TN (BP) – The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has released a letter urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to rescind a recently proposed regulation regarding foster care providers and foster children who identify as LGBTQ+.

The regulation, proposed on Sept. 28, specifies steps foster care agencies must implement or maintain so that children in foster care who identify as LGTBQ+ are ensured a “safe and appropriate” placement if requested.

ERLC President Brent Leatherwood said the proposed regulation is a severe violation of religious freedom.

“This proposed rulemaking discriminates against religious and faith-based foster care providers by forcing such organizations to choose between their deeply held convictions and their desire to live out their faith by caring for some of the most vulnerable children in our society,” Leatherwood said in a letter released Monday, Nov. 27.

“Religious and faith-based organizations’ belief in a biblical sexual ethic is not at odds with the ability of foster families to provide “safe and proper care” to foster children from any background. … We strongly believe that HHS should rescind its proposed rule. The proposed rule will lead to religious discrimination of otherwise qualified foster families and will result in a catastrophic lack of foster care placements for the vulnerable children who need them most.”

The regulation, proposed by the Administration for Children and Families (a division of the HHS), is officially titled “Safe and Appropriate Foster Care Placement Requirements for Titles IV-E and IV-B.”

The Social Security Act requires state and tribal agencies’ children’s welfare agencies to implement certain plans in order to ensure a proper foster care environment for children.

Under the proposed new regulation, those requirements would expand to include “providing for the needs” of self-identifying LGBTG+ children.

The regulation states, “To be considered as a safe and appropriate placement for a LGBTQI+ child means the provider with whom the agency places the child will establish an environment free of hostility, mistreatment, or abuse based on the child’s LGBTQI+ status, the provider is trained to be prepared with the appropriate knowledge and skills to provide for the needs of the child related to the child’s self-identified sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, and the provider will facilitate the child’s access to age-appropriate resources, services, and activities that support their health and well-being.”

Leatherwood said the regulation forces Christian parents and foster care agencies into an LGBTQ+ affirming worldview which would violate their religious beliefs.

“Although HHS claims it is not violating the free exercise of religion, the Department is functionally enforcing such discrimination by relying on the false assumption that only ‘affirmation’ of a child’s LGBTQ beliefs is ‘safe and proper,’” Leatherwood said.

“Contrary to such assertions by HHS, a foster family should not have to agree with every political, spiritual, and other belief of a child to be deemed ‘safe and proper.’ A foster parent’s biblical belief regarding sexuality and gender identity does not detract from their ability to warmly welcome a vulnerable child into their home. … What should remain preeminent in considering foster care placements is whether the foster parent has a physically safe and secure home with access to the resources the child needs while a permanency plan is developed.

“Foster care is designed to be a temporary placement to solve underlying issues preventing parents from adequately caring for their child. As such, the rights of biological parents are worthy of protection – including the right to oppose damaging gender ideology.”

Leatherwood also appealed to Southern Baptists’ strong belief in the importance of foster care ministry.

“Southern Baptists have long prioritized a robust theology of support for foster care, repeatedly stating in resolutions a desire to continue to participate in our nation’s foster care system,” he said.

“In 2022, Southern Baptists resolved ‘to continue and increase their efforts to serve and support … foster-care and adoptive families, doing invaluable and often under-recognized work in the care of women and children at every stage of life.’

“Our deeply held religious conviction to serve and protect vulnerable children has led thousands of Southern Baptists to launch foster care organizations, foster children, and create ministries in their congregations to support the physical and financial needs of foster families. Additionally, congregations across the country have hosted training for foster families to ensure they are trauma informed and have all the knowledge and resources they need to be “safe and appropriate” placements for children in crisis. Every life is precious and worthy of dignity and protection, and that includes protection from sexual ethics that themselves cause harm to children. As Southern Baptists, it is these very beliefs that lead us to serve the most vulnerable and that make these families a “safe and proper” placement for these children in need.

Hannah Daniel, policy manager for the ERLC, explained the ERLC opposes the regulation not only because it violates religious liberty, but because it does not serve the best interest of foster children.

“This new rule from HHS would limit the ability of Christian parents to participate in the foster care system without compromising their deeply held beliefs regarding gender and sexuality,” Daniel said.

“Children who identify as LGBTQ make up a disproportionate percentage of those in our foster care system, and these children desperately need love, care and safety. This rule would exclude millions of parents who are ready to provide that and push these children toward homes that will encourage harmful gender transition procedures during an already traumatic time in the child’s life. The ERLC filed comments pushing back on this rule and urging the Department to consider these harmful implications — not only for people of faith but also for the wellbeing of the child.”



Timothy Cockes is a writer in Nashville.



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