Fostering Discrimination: Religious Exemption Laws in Child Welfare and the LGBTQ Community
Adrianne M. Spoto
In response to increasing rights for LGBTQ individuals in the United States, particularly the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the right to same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, eleven states have imposed laws or policies permitting child welfare organizations to deny services in accordance with their religious beliefs. These measures generally prohibit the state from “discriminating against” religious child welfare organizations by denying them funding or program participation when they refuse to provide services based on their religious beliefs. This Note provides an overview of these religious exemption laws and ultimately argues that, by requiring government funding of discriminatory child welfare organizations, the laws are unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause. The Note begins by considering relevant details about adoption and foster care systems in the United States. It then turns to the laws and policies in question, discussing their provisions, motivations, and impact. Then, taking two specific laws as examples, it analyzes these laws’ constitutionality, arguing for their invalidity under several approaches to understanding the Establishment Clause. By favoring certain religious viewpoints over others, permitting religion to dictate who receives government benefits and services, and imposing burdens on third parties (particularly LGBTQ prospective parents and youth), religious exemption laws ignore the line between church and state in violation of the Establishment Clause.