A lawsuit was filed on Aug. 8 in a federal court in Boston against Massachusetts state officials, accusing them of denying a married Catholic couple a license to serve as foster parents because of the couple’s religious beliefs concerning marriage, sexuality, and gender.

The religious liberty law firm Becket filed the complaint, Burke v. Walsh, on behalf of Mike and Kitty Burke against officials of the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) and also its Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), which oversees DCF.

DCF denied the couple’s application even though Massachusetts is in dire need of foster parents and has approximately 1,500 children who are in need of a family, the firm said in a statement. The situation is so urgent and acute that sometimes the state houses the children in hospitals.

Disqualified for Religious Beliefs

“Mike and Kitty are a loving couple who want to adopt children,” said Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel for Becket. “They believe what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage and sex and gender, and that is the reason that they’re not allowed to adopt a child in Massachusetts.

“Let me say this—the rule that Massachusetts applied to them could be used to exclude Catholics and Orthodox Jews and Muslims, and many Protestants, and people of other faith groups. And that would be terrible because Massachusetts is in desperate need of more foster and adoptive families.”

Faith is important to the Burkes, who own a small business. The couple performs music for Mass at their church.

Early in their marriage, the Burkes found out that they could not have biological children of their own. But Mike, an Iraq War veteran, and Kitty, a former school paraprofessional who worked with special needs children, decided to pursue becoming foster parents and started the process in 2022.

The Burkes successfully completed 30 hours of training, even earning the praise of their instructor, who noted that the couple improved the value of the training for others participating in the program.

Mike and Kitty Burke were interviewed extensively, and a DCF home study written assessment of the couple was completed.

The couple consistently emphasized to DCF that they were willing to foster a diversity of children and those with special needs. They also emphasized that they would foster sibling groups, which would enable and preserve family connections and support.

The Burkes said that they found the home interviews to be upsetting because of the focus and preponderance of time spent on asking questions about their Catholic views on marriage, sexual orientation, and gender dysphoria.

And even though Mike and Kitty Burke emphasized that they would love any child, and this would be the case no matter a child’s grappling with gender identity, or future sexual orientation, Massachusetts did not feel that the Burkes’ intention to maintain their religious beliefs on gender and human sexuality would allow them to be suitable foster parents.

Reasons for Denying the Foster Parent Application

Reasons that Massachusetts DCF gave as a reason for denying the Burkes a foster child license included a reviewer’s assessment that “their faith is not supportive and neither are they.” The reviewer also described the Burkes as “lovely people.”

As well, a letter from DCF to the Burkes, dated March 31, 2023, in which DCF denied their foster parent application, stated that the couple did not “demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the Department, the ability” to promote the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of a child placed in his or her care, including supporting and respecting a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The letter also specified that the Burkes, as determined by Massachusetts DCF, did not satisfy that they could uphold “The DCF Foster Child Bill of Rights,” which “states that every child “[s]hall be treated with respect by DCF staff, foster parents and providers without regard to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and/or disability.”

Becket and the Burkes Counter

Within the lawsuit, Becket claims that DCF violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, stating: “The denial of the Burkes’ application to serve as foster parents substantially burdens their religious exercise because it forces them to choose between the opportunity to become foster and adoptive parents for children in need and maintaining their religious beliefs.”

“The Burkes had already been approved by a private agency, but they weren’t able to afford the fees,” said Becket’s Ms. Windham. “The comments in their state file were really positive. They have letters of recommendation talking about how wonderful they would be as parents.

“And they were denied a license to be foster parents because of their religious beliefs about marriage and sex and gender. DCF tied the denial of a license to a state regulation about supporting and respecting children’s identity.”

The Epoch Times has reached out to DCF and EOHHS for comment.

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