WIN! Massachusetts Federal Court Refuses to Dismiss Catholic Foster Parents’ Religious Discrimination Case

Things can often seem bleak for religious liberty here in Massachusetts. But every so often, we hear about victories that shine light into the darkness and remind us that freedom can be preserved and restored, even here. Just yesterday, we learned that a Massachusetts federal judge issued an order refusing to dismiss a case brought by a Catholic husband and wife after they were denied the ability to foster children due to their beliefs. This is a major win that is likely to have significant implications for Christian families in the Commonwealth and beyond. Last year, Mike and Kitty Burke, a devout Catholic couple who felt called by God to foster children in need, applied to become foster parents in Massachusetts. The Burkes underwent extensive training, interviews, and a home study, and passed with flying colors. But even though the Massachusetts foster system is severely overburdened, to the point that the State has resorted to housing children in hospitals for weeks on end, Mike and Kitty were denied the opportunity to foster for one simple reason: their faith. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) ultimately determined that their Catholic beliefs would prevent them from being “affirming” toward LGBT children, so they could not be trusted to foster.

The Burkes made clear to DCF that they would love and support any child in their care; they just couldn’t affirm a lie about who God created them to be. But this was not good enough for DCF. So, to protect their religious liberty and the freedoms of other families, the Burkes partnered with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to file suit against DCF. Attorney Michael Gilleran, an MFI Board member, serves as local counsel on the case.

DCF filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming they had the right to exclude religious families from the foster care system. Thankfully, the Court emphatically rejected that claim. In his order, the judge wrote that due to DCF’s actions, the Burkes faced a “fundamental dilemma in this case: they could renounce their religious beliefs and receive a foster license, or they could adhere to those beliefs and forfeit the license.” This is not a choice that the government can force people to make under our Constitution.

Although the Burkes’ fight is not over yet, we are very optimistic that they will ultimately prevail. No one should be denied the opportunity to help children in need simply because their religious beliefs prevent them from affirming sexual confusion. We need more foster parents like the Burkes, not fewer. We believe this decision will serve as a strong rebuke to DCF and other state agencies in Massachusetts that routinely trample on citizens’ religious liberty rights. If you or someone you know has experienced similar religious discrimination, reach out to MFI. We are always ready to help.

For our Families,

Sam Whiting, MFI Staff Attorney

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