Scroll To Top

Op-ed: An Agency’s Religious Test Kept My Family from Helping Refugee Kids

Sam Bannon (left) with her wife Pamela and their two children.

My wife, Pamela, and I have a heart for children; kids are important to us. We always planned to have children, and that focus has been a big part of our relationship, especially now that we have two young daughters.

In early 2017, we were moved by the plight of refugee and unaccompanied children who were coming to the United States from areas of the world touched by war, economic strife, and extreme violence. We felt strongly that we could provide a loving, stable home as foster parents for a child escaping difficult circumstances.

So we researched the topic and found that there was one foster care agency in our area that worked with refugee and immigrant children: Bethany Christian Services. After finding Bethany, I registered for an information night, enthusiastic to start the process of becoming foster parents.

I approached the registration table where three staffers welcomed me with smiles. I signed in and when I mentioned that we were a two-mom family the whole mood changed. The staff looked like deer in headlights. One of them told me that Bethany does not work with same-sex couples and offered to refer me to another agency that does. I explained that my wife and I wanted to care for refugee kids and that, as she knew, Bethany was the only agency in the area that offers placements for that population. In response, she stated that refugee children have "already been through enough." 

Embarrassed, I thanked her for her time and left. I later learned that Bethany had a religious objection to placing children with same-sex couples.

There are no other agencies in the region handling the care of refugee children so Pamela and I are unable to offer our home and love to a refugee child.

It is distressing that there is one less family available to care for refugee children because the agency the government hired to find families for them was turning away families based on its religious standards that have nothing to do with the ability to care for children.

This week, a federal appeals court ruled that Philadelphia could continue to enforce non-discrimination provisions for city contractors, including those that accept taxpayer dollars to find families for children in foster care. I am grateful that unlike the federal government, which manages the care of refugee children, the city of Philadelphia is ensuring that the agencies it contracts with that make up the city’s foster care system, accept all qualified families and do not turn away families like ours who are eager to provide these children the love and support they need. 

And I am grateful that the federal court of appeals has rejected the claim, asserted by Catholic Social Services, that the Constitution requires the City to give taxpayer-funded contracts to agencies that are unwilling to comply with the City’s requirement that they accept all qualified families, including same-sex couples.

Pamela and I are members of Philadelphia Family Pride, which intervened in the case in support of the City. Our hope is that the appeals court’s decision will be the last word and that Philadelphia (and other cities and states) will not be forced to allow discrimination in the public child welfare system, making it even harder to find families for children who desperately need them.  The religious beliefs of taxpayer-funded agencies should not trump the interests of the children in their care.

Samantha Hutcherson Bannon and her wife Pamela live in Philadelphia with their two children.

From our Sponsors

READER COMMENTS ()