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Catholic couple says Mass. blocked their foster parent licenses over their religion

Aug 09, 2023


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A Catholic couple in Massachusetts is suing the state for allegedly barring them from being foster parents due to their religious beliefs and violating their First Amendment rights. The devout duo claims Bay State authorities banned them from being part of the state’s foster care system because of their faith’s views on marriage, sexuality and gender.

Mike and Kitty Burke, who are being represented by religious liberty legal group Becket Law, said in their lawsuit that when they discovered they would not be able to have children of their own, they decided to become foster parents with the goal of eventually adopting children who needed a home. The couple said they spent months working with the state doing interviews, training, and inspection in order to qualify for the foster system.

At the end of the process, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) found that the Burkes were unfit to be foster parents for the state. The Burkes say the agency’s determination was based on their religious beliefs about gender and human sexuality.

Mike and Kitty Burke, a Catholic couple in Massachusetts, are suing the state for allegedly barring them from being foster parents due to their religious beliefs and violating their First Amendment rights.
Mike and Kitty Burke. Source: Becket Law.

According to court documents, the DCF noted the “family[‘s] strengths, this including their willingness to parent a child w/ moderately significant medical, mental health and behavioral needs,” and one agency interviewer praised the Burkes for how they “really seem[] to understand adoption/foster care.”

However, in its final ruling, the DCF denied the Burkes a foster care license.

The lawsuit states that the agency offered one reason for the denial: that the Burkes “would not be affirming to a child who identified as LGBTGIA.” The DCF also recorded, “Kitty and Mike are devoutly Roman Catholic and not only attend church with regular frequency, the both also work for local churches as musicians,” the suit says.

According to the filed documents, the “DCF decided the Burkes were not ‘affirming,’ and therefore prohibited from fostering any child in Massachusetts.” The author of the Burkes’ foster license study reportedly said the two were “lovely people,” but their Catholic faith “is not supportive and neither are they.”

The lawsuit points out that “DCF regulation and policy – and the Massachusetts Foster Parent Bill of Rights — all prohibit religious discrimination against potential foster parents.” It further points to federal cases in Washington state and New Jersey, as well as a 2021 Supreme Court ruling, prohibiting discrimination or retaliation against foster care parents and agencies for religious beliefs.

The Burkes’ lawsuit seeks “nominal and compensatory damages” from the multiple state officials listed as defendants and to prohibit the state from denying foster licenses to applicants for their religious beliefs.

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