Virginia Catholics hail new law

RICHMOND - Virginia Catholics hailed the signing of a law that protects faith-based organizations from being forced to violate their religious tenets when placing children for adoption or foster care.

It also protects agencies from being punished for following those tenets.

Virginia became the second state in the nation to enact such a law. North Dakota was the first.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, himself a Catholic, signed the bill into law April 9.

The bill was introduced as a response to debate last year as Virginia's Board of Social Services weighed regulations that would have forced agencies to disregard such factors as sexual orientation and family status when making child placements.

The board ultimately rejected the regulations, and instead adopted rules that affirmed the agencies' freedom of conscience. But the Virginia Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's dioceses of Richmond and Arlington, sought the law to head off potential future conflicts.

In 2011, Virginia's three Catholic Charities agencies placed 137 children up for adoption, and provided 307 foster care placements for children.

"Private, religious-based adoption agencies are a major asset to our communities as they work diligently to find loving, caring, stable homes for children in need of care,'' said McDonnell in an April 11 statement.

"This legislation will help ensure that these adoption agencies remain active in finding homes for these children, without being mandated by government to violate the tenets of their deeply held religious beliefs in the process," the governor added. "This is a bill that reaffirms religious liberty and freedom, a hallmark of this great nation."

Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, said in an April 11 statement that passage of the bill was "a tremendous victory for our first freedom, religious liberty" and expressed gratitude "to all who supported this effort and helped bring it to a successful conclusion."

"Prospective parents who come to faith-based child placement agencies such as Catholic Charities do so at their own choosing, and most do so because they share the beliefs and values espoused by organizations such as ours," said Neil McNulty, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia, in an April 11 statement.

"To force faith-based adoption agencies to violate their core beliefs is not only questionable in the constitutional area, but also hurts the public good by removing the freedom for such couples to select only those organizations which share their beliefs. This legislation protects those families and agencies."

"This move strengthens First Amendment protections and safeguards our ability to assist those many families who seek and depend on our help," said an April 11 statement by Art Bennett, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington.

Joanne Nattrass, executive director of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, said in an April 11 statement, "The law allows all agencies, including faith-based agencies such as ours, the opportunity to continue to support the initiatives of the commonwealth - as well as the Church's own interest - in building and strengthening families through adoption and foster care."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970