With an important Supreme Court ruling on foster care and religious discrimination coming any day, a Kentucky Baptist child care agency is fighting its own battle to continue denying same-sex couples from becoming foster or adoptive parents.
The pending Supreme Court case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, considers whether the city of Philadelphia can require faith-based organizations to comply with the city’s nondiscrimination policies in order to partner with the city in foster care and adoption cases.
In Kentucky, a similar issue now is playing out between Sunrise Children’s Services (formerly known as Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children) and the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
The state now requires that partners in caring for foster and adoption services adhere to its ban on discrimination based on the sexual orientation of prospective foster and adoptive parents.
Sunrise has refused to sign the new contract, citing its deeply held religious beliefs.
Sunrise has refused to sign the new contract, citing its deeply held religious beliefs against same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships. Sunrise is an agency affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
This is not the first foray for Sunrise into legal battles about religious liberty issues. The agency has been involved in a long-running defense of allegations that it pressures children in its care to convert to Christianity. It also has been embroiled in legal disputes about its hiring practices.
The state has established a June 30 deadline for Sunrise to sign the new contract or stop receiving placements through the state’s child welfare program. It is likely the Supreme Court will rule on the Philadelphia case before that deadline, which could either bolster the state’s position or the children’s agency’s position.
Sunrise is one of the state’s largest providers of care for abused and neglected children. It has worked with the state government on this ministry for 50 years.
The Associated Press reported that child welfare advocates “worry that losing Sunrise — which also offers residential treatment programs — would further strain a state system struggling to keep up with demand. Kentucky consistently has some of the nation’s worst child abuse rates.”
Sunrise currently serves about 800 children. The state reimburses Sunrise for about 65% of its costs.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has weighed in on the case, siding with Sunrise.
Sunrise officials have said that although they will not take same-sex couples as foster or adoptive parents, they help direct such couples to other agencies that will work with threm.