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Laura Berman’s effort at a history lesson on education and the corresponding missive against diversity in child placement requires a response (Re: Berman’s Dec. 9 column, “Legislature rushes to remake adoption”).

A genuine version of history reminds us that religious schools, particularly those in the Catholic tradition, were created because of anti-Catholic sentiment that prevailed in the early 19th century public school system. Catholic schools have since gone on to provide a superior education to all students, regardless of their background or income level, and in spite of the archaic language found in Article 8, Section 2 of the Michigan Constitution.

The historical discrimination that Catholic schools faced long ago seems consistent with the current reality of intolerance exhibited by some sectors of secular society toward religious child placement agencies.

Well before the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) was conceived, faith based adoption and foster care agencies were operating within their religious tradition to place vulnerable children in loving homes. When DHS (or its predecessor) was created decades ago, the department looked directly to those religious agencies to better understand how to provide services to abandoned or mistreated children. They did so because faith based agencies did their job very well, and they continue to do so today.

In addition to providing child placement services, many agencies are in service to other vulnerable persons through drug and alcohol counseling, refugee resettlement, providing shelter for homeless persons and feeding those who are hungry. Faith based agencies bring their religious tradition of service and charity to the public square.

Legislation to protect the religious liberty rights of these agencies to operate according to their faith based mission is now under consideration by the Michigan Legislature. The bills are needed to solidify for the future the long-standing partnership with the state of Michigan, which has worked diligently and effectively in recent years to strengthen ties with varying religious communities.

These agencies receive limited public dollars, and they do so to engage in placement services the state has asked them to provide on its behalf. No religious denomination is treated differently than any other. And indeed, these agencies do vary in tradition; Catholic and Protestant organizations both work to place children in Michigan. There are also entities that exist specifically to provide services to Native American families and African-American families. In short, the range of providers are diverse, and that’s what the current legislation — so objectionable to Berman and the ACLU — seeks to protect.

Diversity in child-placement and tolerance toward differing religious and cultural traditions have never faced such aggression. Michigan Catholic Conference strongly encourages the Legislature to pass and the governor to sign House Bills 4927, 4928 and 4991.

David Maluchnik,

director of communications

Michigan Catholic Conference

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