Proposed Regulations Would Inflict Harm on Vulnerable Children

by Guest Contributors

"I have worked in this field for a decade, and I have never witnessed such an intentional effort to inflict harm on the most vulnerable children in our society and all in the supposed name of religious freedom."

Post submitted by Andrew Lorenzen-Strait. Lorenzen-Strait currently serves as the Executive Director for migrant programs at Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA).

Last month, the Trump-Pence administration proposed nine federal regulations that would grant a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities and other vulnerable communities within federal agencies and federally-funded programs, solely on the basis of personal or religious beliefs. Taxpayer dollars would work in service to those who seek to further marginalize people, especially children, who have already been pushed to the fringe of society’s consciousness. My career has spent in child advocacy, much of it in the U.S. government ensuring religious access and the advocating on behalf of the vulnerable and marginalized. My career has now called me into the non-profit world, working to advance the plight and needs of migrant children. This experience calls on me to speak out and let the public know how much harm these proposed regulations would inflict on communities that have already experienced so much harm done to them.

The proposed revisions strip away critical protections for beneficiaries and individuals interacting with programs funded by the federal government, including those directly related to the welfare of migrant children. Among other things, these regulations will further empower agency employees and foster care providers to discriminate against children and families who are LGBTQ. They further illustrate a troubling game plan that has long been in the works to permit the refusal to work with prospective foster parents that are LGBTQ and provide LGBTQ children with affirming environments. These fears are not conjecture. In 2018, Catholic Charities of Fort Worth refused to work with a lesbian couple in Texas hoping to foster refugee and migrant children. The discrimination sanctioned by this regulation is not only an assault on the dignity of same-sex parents, but more troublingly results in vulnerable children staying in congregate care instead of a loving home environment. Children placed in congregate facilities are intentionally segregated from the local communities and are not permitted to enter a local town or enjoy area attractions at will. They are also not enrolled in local schools until they enter a foster parent or sponsor’s home.

These proposed regulations also leave LGBTQ youth served by these programs unprotected. In a lawsuit challenging Catholic Charities of Forth Worth’s actions in the case discussed above, they provided that of the 700 children they served there was not a single LGBTQ child. We know that this is simply untrue. Placement of foster children in homes that are not affirming or are hostile to LGBTQ people greatly undermines the ability of children to engage successfully in school and community life and to make long-term healthy decisions. Stripped of protections, these youth who have already experienced so much hardship, will enter potentially hostile homes with a return to congregate care as their only option.

The current faith-based regulations include clear notice requirements that faith-based organizations provide to prospective beneficiaries detailing their right to receive services free from discrimination and their rights to decline participating in a religious event or programming. These organizations are also directed to refer a beneficiary to another provider if that beneficiary objects to the organization’s religious character. These provisions have been in place and successfully implemented by Lutheran social service affiliates since 2015. These regulations don’t protect religious rights; they erode the delicate that has been successfully maintained for years between the public interest and religious freedom. My work has been rooted in core organizational principles that value the inherent worth of every individual, respect the value of diverse perspectives and beliefs and a drive to serve all of our neighbors regardless of their race, religion, or gender.

I have worked in this field for a decade, and I have never witnessed such an intentional effort to inflict harm on the most vulnerable children in our society and all in the supposed name of religious freedom. There is nothing in these efforts that reflect a respect for the freedom of all people or the religious values that are intended to bring us all closer together as a community, where everyone, regardless of background or station, is treated with love, respect and dignity.

It is critical that every citizen speak out against these increasingly blatant attacks on the rights and livelihoods of vulnerable communities in our country and make it clear to our government that respect for the personal beliefs of individuals does not—and can never mean—the subjugation and persecution of those who do not share those beliefs.