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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: June 25, 2019 09:58 AM
From: Representative Paul Schemel and Rep. Kathy L. Rapp
To: All House members
Subject: Statewide Adoption Network Religious Exception
In the near future, we plan to introduce legislation which would prohibit any state or local government from denying a private adoption or foster care agency from participating in the Statewide Adoption Network (SWAN) merely because of the written religious convictions or policies of the agency or the religious body with which the agency is affiliated.

Religious organizations have always played a fundamental role in adoptive and foster care in Pennsylvania. As an example, in 2018 alone Catholic Charities in Philadelphia, Erie, Harrisburg and Greensburg handled over 580 adoptions and foster care placements. A recent policy change mandating that all agencies which participate in SWAN must agree to place children into same-sex households as a condition of participation has forced religious organizations to choose between their written religious convictions or providing adoptive and foster care services.

This mandate is violative of the spirit of religious liberty as expressed in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision which effectively legalized same-sex marriage. In Obergefell, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, asserted:“[t]he First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”

At the heart of the charitable expression of many religious organizations is the directive to care for the orphaned. The new mandate effectively prohibits many churches from fulfilling this important religious imperative. In addition, the exclusion of many religious organizations from participation in adoptive and foster care services has left DHS struggling to find enough families to participate in adoptive and foster care, which is hurting vulnerable children awaiting adoption and foster care.

Our legislation does not prohibit an adoption or foster care service from placing children into same-sex households, it merely removes the mandate that religiously affiliated agencies be required to do so. Please join us in co-sponsoring this important legislation.