A Religious, Cultural, and Personal Right To Eat Bacon — Even When Your Foster Parents Don’t Allow It in Their Home

A letter from Contemporary Family Services, Inc., one of the entities that has a contract with the state of Maryland to issue licenses to foster parents:

Dear Mr. Moore and Ms. Crudup,

Thank you for your interest in becoming licensed treatment foster parents with Contemporary Family Services, Inc. Unfortunately, at this time, we are unable to approve your home for licensure.

We are denying your application because of concerns raised by statements made during the home study interview, specifically your explicit request to prohibit pork products within your home environment. Although we respect your personal/religious views and practices, this agency must above all ensure that the religious, cultural and personal rights of each foster child placed in our case are upheld. Your statement indicates that there could potentially be a discrepancy between your expectations and the needs and personal views of a child placed in your care.

Should you wish to appeal this denial decision, you must submit a written request for an appeal, which must be received within 45 days of this notice, to:

[Name and address omitted -EV]

Sincerely,

[Name omitted -EV]

There’s a Baltimore Sun article on the subject, and the ACLU of Maryland has filed a complaint with the Baltimore City Community Relations Commission, arguing that CFS’s actions illegally discriminate based on the couple’s religion. (Crudup and Moore are Muslim.)

I have read CFS’s denial letter, the substance of which I quote above in its entirety, and CFS’s Initial Home Study report, and the ACLU’s complaint seems to me to accurately summarize those documents. The ACLU lawyer, whom I asked for the letter, the report, and some background information, also gave me this answer to my question about CFS’s precise role:

CFS doesn’t have a formal relationship with the city of Baltimore but is licensed by the state of Maryland. The Maryland Office of Licensing and Management (which is a part of the Department of Human Resources) is authorized under the Maryland Code to license certain private agencies such as CFS to issue licenses on its behalf to foster parents. CFS is only one of many such private agencies who have been licensed by the state to issue licenses to foster parents on the state’s behalf. In addition, the state meanwhile also provides foster care licenses to parents (thus In some ways, acting in competition with the private agencies it licenses to issue licenses). Many of these private agencies including CFS work with children who need “therapeutic services” — that it, they need special services because they have been the victims of emotional or physical abuse. Ms. Crudup can go to a different agency, but was initially hesitant to do so because it would require her to re-complete the 50 hours of required training she had completed with CFS. It is not clear whether her training can be transferred to another agency.

The CFS decision described in the letter strikes me as quite unjustifiable. True, some parents’ religious practices might indeed make them unsuitable as foster parents, especially given that the foster care system probably can’t carefully tailor each placement to the child’s and parents’ preferences. But an insistence that the child not bring pork into the home — the only item that the letter mentioned — strikes me as a modest imposition on the child, one that doesn’t require the child (for instance) to actually say prayers or engage in rituals that belong to a religion that he doesn’t share, or require the child to forego things that are genuinely deeply valuable to the child’s happiness. Such house rules appear to me to be well within the discretion that foster parents should normally be allowed to run their home as they like, even while they share their home with a foster child that’s placed with them by the government. That CFS is balking at this particular rule thus seems likely to me to stem from hostility to the religious nature of the parents’ beliefs, and not from a sense that a child’s “religious, cultural and personal rights” indeed include the right to have pork in his home when his foster parents insist otherwise.

I should also note that if CFS had officially announced its policies up front, and left the parents free to go through other services — of which there seem to be many — I wouldn’t have as much concern, even though CFS is a government contractor that certifies people for government-required licenses. The ACLU might well disagree, but I think that here having a diversity of options is more valuable than insisting that all the options be nondiscriminatory; if, for instance, some service only wants to certify lesbian couples, another only married couples, and another only Christian families, I think that’s fine. But here it looks like the couple invested a good deal of time in reliance on the service’s applying reasonable criteria, and are now right to claim that they have been rejected on an unreasonable (here, likely religiously discriminatory) basis.

The Baltimore Sun reports, incidentally, that “Officials from the state Department of Human Resources, which oversees Maryland’s foster care system and hired the private company to manage the licensing process, notified Contemporary Family Services on Wednesday that it appeared to have violated several state laws. ‘The law does not permit the agency to make a determination solely on the type of food served in a home,’ said Nancy Lineman, a spokeswoman for DHR. ‘If this was us, we would not disqualify someone from being a foster parent based on these circumstances.'”

Thanks to Religion Clause for the pointer.