In 1969, my two siblings and I were adopted by a kind couple who happened to be of a different religion.
My parents had died within eighteen months of each other due to illness: we were separated, left in the care of friends and foster homes. I was 9, my sister Connie was 5, and my brother Doug was almost 11. My oldest brother, Jeff, was over 18 and left on his own.
Through word of mouth in our Dallas community, news that three siblings were available to be adopted made it to Bill and June Price. Already trying to adopt an infant, the Prices – who were Christian – didn’t hesitate to bring us together to live as a family.
The Prices were committed to ensuring that we were aware of our Jewish heritage and traditions. They enrolled us in Jewish schools, took us to synagogue for the Sabbath and started observing the Jewish holidays in our home. Their dedication to acknowledging and embracing our Judaism continued when we eventually moved to Atlanta.
Today, as a lawyer and member of the ADL’s (Anti-Defamation League) Board of Directors, I am overcome with sadness and dismay as I see increasing efforts across the country that could result in banning interfaith adoptions or the use of religion as a reason for denying adoption rights to LGBTQ parents. I am particularly alarmed by law that would protect agencies that would deny a couple the ability to adopt a child based on the religious beliefs of the agency, rather than the ability of the adoptive couple to provide the necessary care and love to a needy child.
I’ll share a few examples here:
Arizona has a new law, as of April this year, that “protects” foster and adoption agencies from religious discrimination, absolving them of any accountability for how they provide, or deny, services in line with their religious beliefs. The legislation, Senate Bill 1399, was intentionally championed as a preemptive “shield” for faith-based agencies in Arizona after agencies in other states had been forced to abide by non-discrimination statutes.
In Tennessee, judges dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Knoxville couple who alleged that a state-sponsored Christian adoption agency refused to help them because they are Jewish. The lawsuit challenged a 2020 state policy that installed legal protections for private adoption agencies to reject state-funded placement of children to parents based on religious beliefs.
In South Carolina, a same-sex, married couple was denied from participating in a federally-funded foster care program by a Christian ministry. Advocacy groups ended up suing on behalf of the couple – that case is still pending.
If senseless restrictions like these had been in place in 1969 in Dallas, my parents might not have been able to adopt Doug, Connie, and me.
It is already difficult to find families willing to adopt older children, especially a group of siblings, so potential laws of this kind would only serve to fracture families, not strengthen them.
I ask proponents of potential laws like this: What is your primary goal? Shouldn’t we put the interests of children first? Shouldn’t we focus on getting children into loving families? Why should religion be a determining factor?
From our perspective at ADL, government agencies providing these services should not be able to twist the original intent of religious freedom in America into something harmful to children. When they do, all too often such policies open the door to actions motivated by antisemitic, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and other exclusionary beliefs. ADL staunchly believes that the Constitution’s guarantee of religious liberty is a shield for faith, not a sword to discriminate. To that end, we’re closely watching legislative efforts across the country that would take the idea of religious liberties and use it as a weapon.
ADL has filed or joined an amicus brief in nearly every major religious freedom case before the U.S. Supreme Court since 1948 and in countless cases in other courts around the country.
ADL is a tireless advocate in Congress and state legislatures for laws prohibiting religious discrimination and providing appropriate accommodations to the religiously observant. We forcefully oppose measures that would indoctrinate or coerce religion in our nation’s public schools. We oppose using religious liberty to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals, Jews, Muslims, women, or any marginalized communities. Upholding a separation of church and state has been a central tenet of our work since ADL’s founding in 1913.
The gift of adoption from one Christian family to my Jewish family was so personal and important to me. We must protect this right.
We ask everyone to do their part in being an ally. Please join us in this effort to be a watchdog for preventing discrimination, advancing religious freedom, and protecting the fate of our society’s most vulnerable: children who need adoptive parents.
Editor’s Note: Liz Price received the Elbert P. Tuttle Jurisprudence Award for her work “securing justice and fair treatment to all” at the 25th Annual ADL Jurisprudence Awards Luncheon on Sept. 15, 2022.