". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Idaho Law Protects Religious Adoption Agencies and Foster Parents

March 28, 2024

Gem State Republicans are protecting the religious liberty of adoption agencies and parents, some of whom have lost custody of their children due to their religious beliefs. On Monday, Idaho Governor Brad Little (R) signed into law H.B. 578, which prohibits the state government (including departments, agencies, bureaus, boards, councils, courts, etc.) from discriminating in any way against faith-based adoption or foster care agencies or against parents seeking to adopt or foster children based on their religious beliefs.

The law declares that no agent of the state is permitted to discriminate against an adoption or foster care agency which has “provided or declined to provide any adoption or foster care service or related service based on or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief.” The law also protects parents “who the state grants custody of a foster or adoptive child wholly or partially on the basis that the person guides, instructs, or raises a child, or intends to guide, instruct, or raise a child, based on or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief.”

In explaining the intent of the law, legislators wrote, “Children and families benefit greatly from the adoption and foster care services provided by faith-based and non-faith-based child placing agencies.” They continued, “[F]aith-based child placing agencies and individuals … have the right to free exercise of religion under both the state and federal constitutions. Under well-settled principles of constitutional law, this right includes the freedom to abstain from conduct that conflicts with an agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“These are the kind of laws that shouldn’t be necessary, but sadly are,” Family Research Council Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview Joseph Backholm said in comments to The Washington Stand. “A primary purpose of government under our Constitution is to protect the rights of the individuals to speak their mind and live out their faith, but increasingly, government has become the greatest obstacle to those freedoms.” Backholm, also a lawyer, continued, “In this case, Idaho is doing what government should do by protecting fundamental rights. Government should not punish people for acknowledging incontrovertible truths and in Idaho they won’t.”

Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Greg Chafuen said in a statement, “The sad reality is that when the government can discriminate against people of faith, vulnerable children suffer.” He continued, “We applaud Idaho for prioritizing the well-being of kids by prohibiting state and local government officials from discriminating against adoption and foster care providers and parents simply because of their religious beliefs and moral convictions.”

In 2018, the city of Philadelphia barred Catholic Social Services from participating in its foster care program because the agency refused to place children with same-sex couples, citing sincerely held and long-standing religious beliefs. Catholic Social Services sued the city and the case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in 2021 that the First Amendment protected the Catholic organization’s right to free exercise of religion.

Last year, the state of Massachusetts barred a Catholic couple from its foster care program due to the couple’s religious beliefs. Mike and Kitty Burke reported that state agents interrogated them regarding their Catholic faith and the Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality and transgenderism before blocking them from the foster care program. State officials justified their decision by saying that the couple “would not be affirming to a child who identified as LGBTQIA.”

A single mother in Oregon was also blacklisted in 2023 from the state’s foster care program by order of a court, due to her religious convictions. Jessica Bates was denied foster care certification by the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS) after she refused to support homosexuality and gender ideology. A federal judge sided with the DHS over Bates, writing, “Indeed, it appears that the rationale behind why an applicant would be unable to accommodate a child’s LGBTQ+ identities is irrelevant.” The judge added, “The only relevant inquiry is the applicant’s willingness and ability, not their reasoning. Plaintiff has not shown that the government is endorsing secular viewpoints over religious viewpoints in its application of the rule.”

In Montana, the state’s child protective services took a teenage girl away from her parents after her father and step-mother counseled her against her gender transition attempts. After their daughter lied to a Child and Family Services (CFS) case worker and said that she had attempted suicide, Todd and Krista Kolstad took her to the emergency room. When their 14-year-old daughter told hospital staff that she identified as a male and wanted to be called “Leo,” her parents objected. Krista said, “We were very clear to the emergency room staff as well as [CFS] that this goes against our values, morals, and our religious beliefs.” But hospital aides encouraged their daughter to consider gender transition surgery, despite the procedures being illegal in Montana.

The hospital kept the Kolstads’ daughter for evaluation since she had allegedly attempted suicide, and eventually told the couple that their daughter was going to be sent to a facility in Wyoming, where gender transition procedures were allowed. When the Kolstads objected, CFS workers and police showed up at their door to serve them with papers removing their daughter from their care.

“They called it ‘temporary legal custody,’ which means they have the say over where she is at, but we are supposed to be able to have the say over everything else,” Krista said. “But that was not upheld.” While their daughter did not ultimately undergo gender transition procedures in the U.S., she was given several vaccinations without her parents’ consent, and her parents were not allowed to contact her or her doctors directly but had to communicate via a counsellor. In January, a court placed the child in the custody of CFS, who sent her to Canada to live with her birth mother.

Idaho’s H.B. 578 was originally introduced in mid-February and almost immediately passed the state House in a vote of 64-4, with two absences, and earlier this month passed the state Senate 32-2, with one absence. In both chambers, several Democrats sided with the Republican majority to approve the legislation.

S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.