With so many children needing homes, why would anyone be denied the chance to be a foster parent? Eunice and Owen Johns, of Derby, England, wondered, too. They had already fostered 15 children and now, in the early 60’s, they looked forward to being short-term caretakers for a child between five and ten. Three years ago they made their application, but the Derby adoption council deferred the decision and it took the situation to judicial review.
On Monday, the High Court handed down its decision. The Johns won’t be having any more foster children.
The case began when a social worker submitted a negative report about the Johns. Her concern came about when the couple told the social worker that because of their firmly held religious beliefs they couldn’t tell their child that a “homosexual lifestyle” was acceptable.
The two judges, who ruled unanimously, said that protection against discrimination “should take precedence over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds.”
The Johns, supported by many religious organizations in England, say that the state views them as unsuitable parents because of their religious views.
This isn’t the only instance of the right not to be discriminated against has come into conflict with the freedom of religion. Several Catholic adoption agencies in the UK have shuttered their doors because the country’s equality laws require that gay couples shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to adopt. The Church finds homosexual parenting repugnant and in order not to place children with gay or lesbian couples have decided to close down their adoption agencies.
In my view, the state is right in enforcing anti-discrimination requirements for adoption agencies. If Catholics can’t abide by this, it is a pity for the children who will denied a family to live with. Given the choice between its religious principles and the needs of children to be placed in loving homes, the Church has chosen principles above people.
In regards to the Johns, I think the courts have gotten it wrong. Here it is the government that has chosen a principle over the lives of children. The primary concern is that of the child and the only questions that should be in play is whether the home is loving and safe.
Fifty years ago in New York, children could be placed only in homes that shared the same religion as the birth mother. In more recent years, black social workers in the US took the position that African-American children shouldn’t be placed in white homes.
These positions sacrifice the needs of children for the sake of an ideal. I don’t agree with the Johns’ notions about homosexuality, but if they have been good foster parents in the past, then the chances are that they will be good foster parents again. I don’t expect every parent to agree with me on how to raise a child and I certainly don’t expect that many parents will agree with about my religious views. That is all beside the point. The important thing, the only important thing, is what is best for the child.
Gay-rights groups in Britain hail the court’s decision. But I side with the Johns in saying “a vulnerable child has now likely missed the chance of finding a safe and caring home at a time when there are so few people willing to foster or adopt.”