Catholic couple alleges state denied them foster parenting chance over religious beliefs

Mike and Kitty Burke of Massachusetts are pictured in an undated photo. Becket, a Washington-based religious liberty law firm, said Aug. 8 it is representing the Catholic couple, prospective foster and adoptive parents, who allege they were denied the ability to participate in the commonwealth's fostering/adoption program due to their religious beliefs about marriage, sexuality and gender. (OSV News photo/courtesy Becket)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) -- A Massachusetts couple alleged the commonwealth denied them the opportunity to foster or adopt children into their family due to their religious beliefs.

Becket, a Washington-based religious liberty law firm, said Aug. 8 it is representing Mike and Kitty Burke, prospective foster and adoptive parents who said they are Catholic and were allegedly denied the ability to participate in the program due to their religious beliefs about marriage, sexuality, and gender.

Mike Burke is an Iraq war veteran, Becket's statement said, while Kitty Burke is a former paraprofessional for children with special needs; the couple run a business and perform music for Mass. They said they began applying to become foster and eventually adoptive parents, but claim the state disqualified them over their religious views.

"After months of interviews and training, and after years of heartbreak, we were on the verge of finally becoming parents," the couple said in a joint statement. "We were absolutely devastated to learn that Massachusetts would rather children sleep in the hallways of hospitals than let us welcome children in need into our home."

Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement, "It takes the heroic effort of parents like Mike and Kitty to provide vulnerable children with loving homes through foster care."

"Massachusetts' actions leave the Burkes, and families of other faiths, out in the cold. How can they explain this to children waiting for a home?" she said.

According to Becket, the Burkes underwent training and interviews in their application process, receiving high marks from instructors; however, during home interviews, the couple received questions about their Catholic faith's beliefs about sexual orientation and gender dysphoria. The couple responded they would love and accept any child into their home, regardless of the child's future sexual orientation or potential struggles with gender identity.

However, the couple allege their application was rejected after their home study called their religious views "not supportive." They claim the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, or DCF, officials said that despite their strengths as applicants, their answers about sexuality and gender prevented them from being licensed.

In their Aug. 8 filing with the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, the Burkes' attorneys stated, "As faithful Catholics, the Burkes believe that all children should be loved and supported, and they would never reject a child placed in their home. They also believe that children should not undergo procedures that attempt to change their God-given sex, and they uphold Catholic beliefs about marriage and sexuality."

The filing cited U.S. Supreme Court precedent which "unanimously -- rejected the attempt to exclude Catholic foster care agencies from the child welfare system," and a 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision holding "the First Amendment prohibits retaliation against foster parents for sharing their religious beliefs on marriage."

"Exclusion of Catholic couples is equally unconstitutional," the brief argued, saying the DCF's rules would extend to Muslims, Jews and Christians with similar beliefs, meaning "any Massachusetts family with similar religious beliefs on human sexuality will be banned from ever fostering or adopting children through Massachusetts' child welfare system."

The Massachusetts DCF did not immediately respond to a request for comment from OSV News on the case.



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