Kentucky foster children suffered another hit as a Baptist adoption and foster care agency was forced to refuse a contract with the state after the Democratic administration declined to make an exception for the group’s religious beliefs.
As Democrats across the country pressure Christian adoption agencies to violate their religious beliefs, the state of Kentucky illustrates the pitfalls of electing a state leader whose core values runs counter to their own.
Sunrise Children Services, affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, is a major children’s services provider in the state. The organization refused a contract with the state government, however, due to a dispute over one line in the contract, reportedly to do with LGBT discrimination.
Susan Dunlap, spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services said, “The cabinet has offered Sunrise Children’s Services, an adoption/foster service agency, opportunities to enter into an agreement required by federal law. They have refused to do so.”
Todd Gray, the convention’s executive director declined to say specifically what the dispute involved but said that it was over one sentence in the contract. “The bottom line is that there’s just a deeply held religious conviction. We do have religious liberty in our country,” he said.
Gray added that previous administrations had struck the sentence from the contract. He also said that he would call Gov. Andy Beshear Monday to ask him to reconsider and urged that Kentucky Baptists do the same.
Dale Suttles, president of Sunrise, said, “The cabinet has emailed a contract and we’ve reached out many times to set up a dialogue to discuss the contract.” He claimed that Sunrise’s attorney has reached out more than 20 times since March 2020.
“At the heart of the issue is the fact that there are some individuals and couples who are not the best fit for our Sunrise foster care program, but Jesus has taught us to love everyone, and that’s exactly what we do. The foster care process is so important to each person involved — the parents, the agency, and certainly the child — and so we lovingly help any individual or couple find a better fit with another organization if necessary. That is not the answer the current administration wants to hear.”
Gray claimed that the agency is not “abandoning” children. “One news outlet is saying Sunrise is pulling out on the state, implying that Sunrise is abandoning the state. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “Sunrise would sign a contract today that respects their deeply held religious convictions.”
In contrast stands the state’s previous governor, conservative Republican Matt Bevin. Bevin advocated for an overhaul of the state’s adoption and foster care system. Before he was elected, Bevin and his wife had struggled to fill out all the paperwork and other requirements of the foster care bureaucracy only to be denied the right to adopt a child because they already had five kids. Instead, the Bevins went to Ethiopia and adopted four more children.
Bevin was willing to work with all agencies to help improve the foster care system, including religious agencies. He sought to find foster care families in churches across the state. He connected with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which runs Sunrise. Bevin also pushed for a federal judge to throw out a legal settlement that required the American Civil Liberties Union to monitor Sunrise.
Kentucky, a conservative state, added Republicans to the legislature and chose Republicans for every executive position up for election in 2019, with the exception of governor. In the latter race, incumbent Bevin was defeated by liberal Democrat Beshear after Bevin had become unpopular with the state’s teachers due to controversy over the pension system.
Yet, in electing a radical governor whose values do not match their own, Kentuckians have been subjected to harsh COVID restrictions and have been shackled by an administration that will not defend that state’s views on abortion or religious liberty. Many forget that a governor wields excess power in our modern system of government and can significantly impact people’s day-to-day lives in ways well beyond the few issues cited in campaign ads.
Electing a liberal governor has consequences. In the case of Sunrise, children are harmed because the Beshear administration refuses to respect the religious beliefs of an agency that has a long history of carefully placing children in the best possible homes. That harm is much greater than if the state provides a religious option for agencies that want to provide adoption and other child services. There are other agencies that potential adopters can work with.
Ours is a nation that believes in — and is guaranteed — freedom of religion. Unfortunately, the concept of religious liberty is increasingly being construed as freedom from religion — to be enforced by the power of the state at the expense of taxpayers and to the detriment of everyone.