The vice president of the United States — notorious for anti-LGBTQ views — just went public with his highest praise yet of religious bigotry. In comments first reported by the Washington Blade, Pence celebrated new Department of Health & Human Services rules that will keep federal money flowing to religious agencies that refuse to place children with LGBTQ parents or to parents of different or no religious faith.
Religious tyranny is NOT freedom. This rule will deprive children of homes while doing nothing to protect actual religious freedom. Pence and some religious freedom advocates have turned this issue completely on its head, confusing the privilege of imposing religious belief with the right to practice religion and exercise faith. Pence is a perfect example of the US government working to “establish religion.”
First the facts:
According to NBC News, more than 100,000 foster children in the US are awaiting adoption, many of them served primarily or uniquely by government-contracted religious agencies responsible for their placement.
LGBTQ parents are much more likely to adopt than straight parents. A 2018 report from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found that over 20% of the roughly 114,000 same-sex American couples raising children are raising adopted or foster children — much higher than the 3 percent of opposite-sex couples who do.
Somewhere, the shade of George Orwell is groaning, or perhaps grinning in recognition.
This new federal rule will reduce the number of potential homes available to children in need. Fewer kids will be adopted, not more kids.
Civil Rights groups are up in arms
Julie Kruse of Family Equality called the Trump administration’s rule outrageous. “The American public overwhelmingly opposes allowing taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies to turn away qualified parents simply because they are in a same-sex relationship.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) plans to sue the Trump administration.
“Families who are rejected by an agency because of their faith or sexual orientation may not have other options in their area,” Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU LGBT and HIV project, said in a statement.
“Even if they do, the sting and humiliation of discrimination may deter some from approaching other agencies to possibly face more discrimination.”
Pence’s statement doesn’t hold up to scrutiny
Let’s look at what the vice president said to the crowd celebrating National Adoption Month last Tuesday. His words need to be examined carefully.
- Spending tax money neutrally is not a penalty
I couldn’t be more proud that at President Trump’s direction and with the strong support of leaders across foster care, adoption, and our faith communities, we’ve taken decisive action. We’ve reversed the rule implemented in the closing days of the last administration that jeopardized the ability of faith-based providers to serve those in need by penalizing them for their deeply held religious belief. — Mike Pence
Pence is twisting facts almost beyond recognition. Enforcing non-discrimination standards as a requirement for spending taxpayer money is not a penalty. Government-funded adoption agencies rely almost entirely on taxpayer money — either municipal, state, or federal — to operate. Taxpayers have a right to expect that their money will be spent without religious discrimination.
People whose deeply held religious beliefs dictate that they must stigmatize and exclude LGBTQ people, harming needy children in the process, already have the freedom not to bid on government contracts that violate their conscience. Bidding for and winning a taxpayer-funded contract is a privilege, not a right.
- Denying children homes is the opposite of supporting adoption
We will stand for the freedom of religion and we will stand with faith-based organizations to support adoption. — Mike Pence
Somewhere, the shade of George Orwell is groaning, or perhaps grinning in recognition. Reducing the number of families eligible to adopt children is the OPPOSITE of supporting adoption. As the ACLU notes, the American adoption crisis is all about a shortage of available families, not about a shortage of agencies.
Nobody’s freedom of religion is impacted here. US government contracts don’t have (or at least they should not have) anything to do with practicing religion or holding sincere religious beliefs.
- Refusing to serve children in need is religious tyranny
And I’ll make you one more promise: Child welfare providers will never be forced to choose between their faith and serving those in need — not on our watch. — Mike Pence
No child welfare worker anywhere has to choose between practicing religion and serving people in need. Again, refusing to place a child with an LGBTQ family (or with a Catholic or Jewish family, as has already happened) is the OPPOSITE of serving those in need. It is, in actual fact, refusing to serve people in need. It is an act of imposition of faith on people who don’t share that faith. And if that imposition is funded by taxpayer dollars? It’s religious tyranny.
Pete Buttigieg spells it out neatly
Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, in an interview with the Washington Blade, draws a bright line between requiring religious organizations to adhere to non-discrimination rules and dictating their religious beliefs to them:
That is different from telling religious organizations what their theology ought to be, or invading their practice or religious belief. We’re talking about social services being offered in partnership with the taxpayer, and that creates an obligation and shared expectation for the United States.
Pence’s statement underlines a troubling trend
As Tim Fitzsimons writes for NBC News, this new rule is one more example of a myriad of largely unnoticed, discriminatory changes the Trump administration is introducing into the federal bureaucracy. While Catholic and evangelical organizations like the Family Research Council are praising the move, it’s just one more nail in the coffin of second-class-citizen status for Americans who are members of gender and sexual minorities.
The Trump administration has implemented a plethora of federal rules that have received little public attention. They effectively allow organizations and businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people because of “strongly-held religious beliefs.” As a byproduct, and somewhat ironically, they also tend to enable discrimination against people of faith. The effect is already toxic and pervasive, and the rule-writing trend is continuing.
Religious tyranny is NOT freedom
In a free society, all people have the right to be treated equally under the law and to equally enjoy the fruits of the common public purse. When governments enable unjust discrimination, when high officials celebrate such discrimination, then freedom is reduced for everyone.
Religious freedom ends where imposition of belief begins. Mike Pence clearly does not understand that concept. He also clearly doesn’t understand that children needing families matter more than kowtowing to conservative Churches that demand the privilege of imposing faith on others.
We need new, more moral, more freedom-loving leadership in Washington. And we need it desperately.
For a more extensive, data-driven look at religious adoption policy, click the link below.
James Finn is a long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Act Up NYC, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to email@example.com.