Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., joined The Daily Signal’s Genevieve Wood to discuss the American Civil Liberties Union’s attack on religious adoption centers and explain the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, a bill he is sponsoring. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.
Wood: November is National Adoption Awareness Month and you have legislation you’ve introduced in the House that pertains to the whole issue of adoption. Before we get specifically to the legislation, let’s talk about how big this population is. Am I right that there are about 400,000 kids today in foster care?
Kelly: You are, yes.
Wood: How does that play out when it comes to adoption?
Kelly: Well, I just think that we don’t have enough adoption agencies right now to give these children. And some of them are children that have special needs. And those are the ones that are the hardest ones to place. And ironically, who steps up? It’s always the faith-based people that say, “I want that little boy, that little girl. I want that person. I want them to be part of our family.” And it’s always the faith-based people that step forward when there’s a need.
So I think that we look at that and there’s a great opportunity right now for us to make sure that they don’t move around in foster homes, that foster care is okay. But the most important thing for any child is to grow up in a family with a loving mother and father, and other brothers and sisters.
In my own family, we have 20 nieces and nephews, my wife and I, and five of those children are adopted. And I keep trying to think which are the ones that are adopted because we just had Thanksgiving and they’re all the same. They’re all the same. They’re all part of our family. It’s the loving part that is incredibly important for children, they have to be included. They have to know they are loved. They have to know there’s parents that want to raise them and that they can grow up in that family.
Wood: I think out of that 400,000 children that are in foster care, it’s about 100,000 that are specifically in need of a forever family. These are children that aren’t going to be reunited with their biological parents and they’re looking for homes. People say, “Adoption is a great thing, why are you all talking about it?” Well, it’s because it’s under attack. You’ve talked about faith-based adoption agencies and faith-based services that provide adoption services. The ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, has come in, I believe in September, and said, “We don’t think these agencies should be allowed to get funds from the government and provide these services if they are not also allowing children to be adopted by same-sex couples.” They’ve basically got a lawsuit going in Michigan. How does this impact the whole scope?
Kelly: Well, here’s what it impacts, when you don’t have the access to the federal funds, in a lot of these agencies, the faith-based, it’s the same as the other agencies, they need this funding to help get these children to homes. I find it ironic that the ACLU has decided to discriminate against people who say, “Look, we just want to make sure that they have a loving family, a loving couple. And we believe in man and woman as the parents.”
We’re not saying other people can’t do it another way, we’re not saying that at all. We’re just saying, why are you excluding us? Why are we not included when it comes to addressing a situation that really makes sense for America. It makes sense for these young people who are coming up. And it’s just so odd that you’re not all inclusive, so we’re going to exclude you. And we say, “No look, there’s nothing in our legislation that excludes anybody.”
Wood: We’re saying that everybody has access.
Kelly: Right. And it doesn’t make sense that because you believe the parents have to be a woman and a man that you’re going to be excluded. That’s not the way it works. It’s never been that way in our country. I just find it so odd that people would pick up this challenge and say, “No, we have to make an example of these people, they are going to do it this way or they’re not going to do it at all.”
We’re just the opposite. We’re saying, “No, just leave us alone. Let us do the way we believe, what we want to do as far as including people.” And the other agencies can do it. We’re not saying they should be excluded, and I think that’s the odd part.
Wood: We’ve seen this play out before in places like Boston where Catholic Charities, for example, for years was a huge adoption service in that community and that city. They had to quit providing adoption services because they were told, “You’re no longer going to get any funds unless you put children in same-sex couple homes as well.” But all of these states and localities have agencies that do both. Right? So it’s not as though a gay couple can’t go and apply for adoption, they just can’t do it through a Catholic charity.
Kelly: That’s right. That’s exactly right. And it doesn’t make sense. I keep going back to what I said earlier, why are we being excluded? So, the legislation that we’re talking about, H.R. 1881, has 11 senators on board along with 38 members of the House, and that’s going to get bigger. That’ll grow to an even greater number.
All we’re saying is, why can’t we protect our religious liberties? Why are we always the ones that are being excluded? Why are we being made like the object of, “Oh they’re terrible, they won’t do this.” We’re saying no, there’s other agencies, your choice. In our case, this is our choice. We don’t believe in same-sex couples. We believe that the child should be raised in a home by a mother and a father and done that way.
We’re living in an entirely different times. The world I grew up in, unfortunately, we don’t get to go back to what we’ve always believed from Day One. We’re being viewed as something different and then the idea is, “Look, exclude them. Just make it impossible for them to participate.”
Wood: And as you’ve said, ultimately, this isn’t really about helping adoption agencies, we’re all pro for that. But the reality is this is about ensuring children aren’t left behind. And my understanding is that if you take out Catholic Charities and other religious organizations that provide these services—considering many of them have been the ones historically for years that have probably done the most, in terms of making adoption placements—you’re actually keeping more children in foster care.
Kelly: Absolutely, it’s just so counterproductive. It goes against the grain in such a way that it’s become some kind of cause that there really wasn’t a need for, you didn’t have to worry about it.
Wood: Is this not political correctness being legislated, if you will? The ACLU seems to be saying, “Unless you are buying into the full LGBTQ, add another alphabet agenda, you’re not going to get any funds.” So let’s talk specifically about your legislation. It’s called the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act. And what would it do? How would it protect these faith-based institutions from suits like the ACLU one or states passing laws banning such involvement by religious groups.
Kelly: I think, by law, nobody should be able to discriminate because you don’t believe in some of the things they believe in or they don’t believe in some of the things you believe in. When it comes to religious liberties, that’s what America’s always been about. We just came from Thanksgiving, and we look back to why did these folks come to America. It was for religious freedom. So we know that and we accept that, but then all of a sudden, it has become a cause celeb.
I believe that it is just another one of those markers that someone puts down to say, “Here’s where we are today.” And I want to be one to say, “Listen, if that’s the way you feel, that’s the way you feel, we’re not attacking you.” So would you make it harder for a child to be adopted? Why would you make it more difficult? Why wouldn’t you look at this and say, “You know what, you have your set of standards and we have our set of standards. We’re not going to deprive you of federal funds to help run these agencies at a time when we need more agencies, not fewer agencies.”
When we have people looking to adopt, why would we make it a harder path for the child? Not for the parents, but why harder for the child? And I just think as Americans we’ve always had big hearts and there’s nothing that we hold in greater esteem than children. We know they’re our future but we also know that they have to grow up in a loving home. We don’t like the fact that, I’m not criticizing foster care, but children are put with one family, then another, and then another.
Wood: Well, it was never supposed to be the permanent solution, it’s supposed to be very temporary. So some states have passed laws trying to protect these groups, other states have basically passed laws in cities saying, “No, if you discriminate against gay couples, you can’t get any dollars.” What would your legislation do?
Kelly: It just prevents the federal government from depriving us of any of the funds. And the other thing, which I think is really critical, is the president was very clear early on about religious freedoms. He has the ability right now through executive order to put this into effect, much like the Mexico City policy.
And where we are today is because President [Barack] Obama made this decision for the exclusion. And we are saying, “Wait, so President Obama made a statement, I didn’t agree with it, but he did it anyway.” We now have Donald Trump and he can also now say, much like the Mexico City policy when it comes to abortions, we can also do this with this Inclusion Act. We can make sure that this funding, this federal funding, is going to help all agencies and none of the agencies are excluded because of their religious beliefs.
No. 1 in America has always been our religious beliefs. We are always allowed to believe and to practice our religion in a free way. This one is just kind of a slap in the face. And again, I just think it’s a marker to say, “Look at what we were able to do, we were able to stop this.” You were able to stop children from getting adopted by a loving family? That’s a victory? That’s not a victory.
Wood: Final question: So people say, “Well, how significant is this? Is this something we need to be concerned about today?” We know the ACLU filed this case back in September, it’s making its way through the courts. Again, this was against the state of Michigan, but it would have huge repercussions across the country. How quickly does something, in your judgement, need to happen? This legislation, the president acting, what does the timeline look like?
Kelly: I believe in a case like this, time is of the essence. And when I talk to folks they always say, “Well, how can I help?” You write your legislator, you call your legislator. You express your feelings and say, “Listen, this is something that doesn’t make sense to us, we don’t want this to happen.”
I’m afraid with the Michigan piece it could become a domino effect and then it would really gain momentum. And that’s hard, once that starts going that way it’s hard to pull back. I believe if you stop it early on, you stop it. So for us, as private individuals, people of faith, you have to have faith that you, your beliefs, your heart, make a difference. Every single one makes a difference.
But it’s getting on the phone, call in to talk shows and say, “Do you know this is going on right now? Do you know people of faith are being excluded from federal funds because they believe don’t believe in same-sex marriage? That’s the only reason their being excluded.”
You know what? This is your time, this is who we are as a people and this is our opportunity. And you can’t have a blind eye or a deaf ear to what’s going on in America right now. This is a huge issue. … Just look into your heart and you tell me that an agency should be deprived of making sure a child gets a loving home because of their religious beliefs. That is an incredible step down for America. I just think that our religious freedom is an issue right now, it’s not just this issue, there’ll be more.
Wood: It’s one, yeah.
Kelly: We need to stop it now and we need to let our legislators know that we’re watching and the we’re aware. And then you do that thing where you call your friends, your neighbors. I can’t think of a better time than around the Thanksgiving table last week. People say one thing you shouldn’t discuss at Thanksgiving is politics, but if you come to my house, it’s all politics..
Wood: Congressman Mike Kelly, thank you very much for what you’re doing on this issue, and thank you for being here and sharing with us.