Public Comments for 01/27/2021 Health, Welfare and Institutions - Social Services Subcommittee
HB1932 - Child-placing agencies; conscience clause.
Last Name: Gay Organization: Virginia Catholic adoption agencies Locality: Yorktown

To whom it may concern, Catholic adoption agencies through the decades have done more for adoptions than any others. To try and shut them down by labeling their advocacy for the nuclear family — which research tells us is best for the child — as hate speech is beyond despicable. These agencies like Catholic schools have the Catholic faith as a core value at the center of all they do. So their mission to live out their faith through adoption is protected under the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. You do this and we will see you in court even if we have to take you all the way to the SCOTUS. I pray for your conversion and that you reject this egregiously misguided legislation.

Last Name: O’Shaughnessy Locality: Centreville

To limit the ability to place a child in a loving home because the state doesn’t agree with the organization’s written religious beliefs is wrong. The law is correct as written and should NOT be changed. More placement agencies are needed, not less.

Last Name: Nelson Locality: Stafford

In REBUTTAL to "American Atheists", please DO KEEP the CONSCIENCE CLAUSE, because: ALL values arise ONLY from the breast of each Individual. That being the case, each person's religious belief is either theistic or A-theistic. It is nonetheless a religious belief about God. Given this unique, individual-breast origin of every human Value, it stands to reason that each person is the SOLE OWNER of THEIR OWNED Values, including their inevitably religious ones, since all people have the knowledge of God (They either believe in God or they don't, but this knowledge is, evidently, uniquely human - We've never seen a squirrel or a flea build a church.) American Atheists wrote: "Religious liberty is guaranteed by the First Amendment to protect individual beliefs; it does not create special rights for religious individuals and organizations to violate neutral laws or discriminate against groups they disfavor." - Rebuttal #1: The First Amendment protects those Individual Values (including their OWN(ed) Beliefs. A person or organization of like-Valuing people does not have to be religious to be against certain forms of adoption. They simply have to hold different Values than other potential adoption organizations. It's the individually owned Values that are being protected, not the secondary characteristic of theistic or a-theistic Values chosen. -REBUTTAL #2: As to "these troubling numbers by repealing the so-called “conscience clause,” which allows adoption and foster placement services to discriminate against ...", this statement misleads: (1) Discriminating is done EVERY time a person makes a decision. The ability to ensure multitudes of different individuals, each having their own values, is the most peace-FULL and fair manner of law. If you or your organization doesn't believe in two males or two females adopting children, then fine. Pursue your own Values, for they are Your OWN(ed). If you or your organization want to pursue otherwise, then you're free to do so. It would be preferable for the State to remain neutral - not supporting or denying either with emolument, which would be the least of all evils, but certainly the State should NOT interfere with Individual Owners of their own Values for the kind of adoption agency they prefer to support with their Own Life. -REBUTTAL #3: "Nearly 40 states do not have such exemptions" This is a well-known logical fallacy, appealing to a mass or majority opinion as though that makes it Right. -REBUTTAL #4: ", and faith-based foster care and adoption agencies function well in these states, continuing to provide their services without discrimination." This is also an arrogating logical fallacy, claiming that "agencies function well" presumes that the Values of "American Atheists" can define for everyone else what "function well" means when clearly not everyone agrees with their estimation. -REBUTTAL #5: "Without this repeal, child placement agencies that receive state funding will continue to be permitted to freely discriminate based on their religious beliefs. ..." Again, every Individual Discriminates EVERY time they make a decision. The "American Atheists" argument is on-it-face discriminating too, which is why adoption agencies of many kinds should be encouraged, not discouraged. CONCLUSION: The State should leave the CONSCIENC CLAUSE intact, because it permits the greatest latitude for exercise of Conscience among competing Individual Values.

Last Name: Patch Locality: Chesapeake

Please don't exclude faith based foster care programs to provide families for children. This would be damaging to the growing number of children who need this service. Why would you even consider it? Do you really want to punish children by refusing them Christian homes because people of faith hold to their beliefs in the sanctity of marriage being between a man and a woman? Do you think that families with a mom and a dad who believe in the God of the Bible are unfit to care for children who need a family? Why would you discriminate against people of faith this way? Are you saying that Christian families and ministries are only allowed to help children in need if they ditch their faith or moral Christian worldview? When our government decides its decisions are better for children in a culture than the long-standing beliefs of the majority of the culture, then we need to speak up! People of faith have just as much to offer children who need foster care services as any other people. It would be a poor choice to exclude them. Please don't.

Last Name: Kerns Locality: Midlothian

"With 5,400 children in Virginia's foster care system, more than 700 of whom are ready for adoption right now, we need as many agencies as possible serving foster children in Virginia, not less." (FamilyFoundation) Please do not deny orphans & unsupported children the opportunity to find love in a nurturing & healthy. They are the future of our America. How Christian programs & Faith-based outreaches have been the backbone to America's heart for those in need. Even if we don't always agree with the religion, the services provided are invaluable & undeniably provide a much needed service for the children in need in Virginia. Please do not turn your back on them. Do not deny them the help because the adoption agencies have a faith in a certain God. Furthermore that is a violation of our first amendment rights & will not win you any future votes. So, I plead with you to protect the rights of those who want to help the children in their community grow in safety & love. Thank you.

Last Name: Mathis Organization: Area Pastors Locality: James City

Today, we have over two thousand kids that are in foster care and we need every foster agency possible to be viable and ready to care for them until they can be fostered. Also, I don't believe anyone has the right to force a private, Christian company to have to foster children to a homosexual couple. That is egregious and unconscionable to say the least. I hope you make the right decision and not approve of this bill. Thank you for listening to me and God bless and lead you.

Last Name: Leach Locality: Williamsburg

There are so very many children needing safe homes. Why would barring homes where there is a female and male parent make any sense given the outcry of so many children needing homes? That just makes so rational sense at all!

Last Name: Higley Organization: Family Foundation Locality: Midlothian

We need all of the agencies working to provide homes for foster children here in Virginia Do not repeal statutory conscience protections for faith-based adoption and foster care agencies.

Last Name: Woodward Organization: Self Locality: YORKTOWN

At a time when children need as much community love and support as possible and a shortage of open homes, we need as many safe places to place the children of our state as possible. In a prefect world, there would never be a need for organizations to step up and care for children that don't have a safe and loving home, but we shouldn't exclude them from offering love and care if they are willing and able to provide temporary placement. Thank you. Teresa Woodward

Last Name: Christopher Dangerfield Locality: Newport News

This bill needs to be stopped. Religious agencies, including those for adoption, should be allowed to perform their services in accordance with their religious beliefs. If the government enacts this bill, then they will be determining what they believe should be someone else's religious beliefs with their own sense of right and wrong. There are plenty of other public agencies that hold to the standards that this bill is trying to enforce, so there should not be any issue or problem with others being able to exercise their religious beliefs. To force others to do this will only hurt the agencies, the children that they are trying to help, and the state agencies that their work will help to relieve.

Last Name: Vance Locality: Blacksburg

All Roman Catholic and orthodox Protestant adoption and foster agencies have permanently closed or ceased services wherever this kind of law has passed [see e.g. https://www.usccb.org/committees/religious-liberty/discrimination-against-catholic-adoption-services and https://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=882]. We Christians cannot forfeit those very beliefs that motivate us to care for vulnerable children. Neither should we be made to give up this essential part of our religion and the free exercise of it: "RELIGION that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27). Indeed, from the earliest days of the Christian era when Christians routinely collected the unwanted children left to die of exposure outside the city, we have considered it an essential part of our religion to care for unwanted children and place them in godly, loving homes. If Virginia continues to have religious adoption/foster service providers through which we exercise our religious duties according to our religious principles, this in no way hinders non-religious service providers from providing their services without regard to religious principles. But this raises a greater issue: How can ANY human dignity, rights, and liberty be either philosophically grounded or practically maintained in our Commonwealth apart from Christian principles, which are infringed upon by this bill? Oliver Wendell Holmes, the atheistic former U.S. Supreme Court justice (1902-1932) wrote, “I see no reason for attributing to a man a significance different in kind from that which belongs to a baboon or to a grain of sand” [https://www.jstor.org/stable/25717199]. Societies that have put such godless principles into practice have historically devolved into statism, to the loss of liberty, rights, and dignity. And those jurisdictions that are recently entering upon the same experiment are standing on a tin roof wearing roller skates. There is only one direction for them to go. Even Thomas Jefferson recognized the problem and asked, "And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure, when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?" [https://www.jstor.org/stable/1051380, see https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper/JEFFERSON/ch18.html]. Sincerely, David Vance, Ph.D. Minister, Redeemer ARP Church Blacksburg, Virginia

Last Name: Woyak Locality: Christiansburg

It is in everyone's interest to allow conscience provisions for organizations doing such essential work. To deny organizations the right to operate within their consciences is to establish a State Orthodoxy and to punish those whom the State deems "heterodox." There is no consistent way to maintain freedom of speech while simultaneously establishing a State Orthodoxy. On behalf of every Virginian who values freedom of speech, I respectfully ask our legislators to retain the conscience provisions.

Last Name: Nadwodny Locality: Gainesville

Why would you force a vaccine when hyrdroechloraquin and other drugs heal people. CDC says 99.9% of people recover. Why are you using the tool of fear. What is in it for you. It’s being said that covid is just the first part of this bio weapon. The next part will kill those who were diagnosed with it. If you keep this up there won’t be any one to vote. Oh that’s right. Depopulation is part of the plan. You reap what you sow.

Last Name: DeGrave Organization: American Atheists Locality: Newport News

As a Virginia resident and an Assistant State Director for American Atheists, which has over 1,600 constituents in Virginia, I testify in support of HB1932, a bill that would end state-sanctioned discrimination in foster care and adoption based on religious beliefs. This legislation would increase the number of available foster and adoption families, leading to more availability for children in foster care to have a loving, permanent home. We strongly urge you to support this bill. American Atheists is a national civil rights organization that works to achieve religious equality for all Americans. We strive to create an environment where atheism and atheists are accepted as members of our nation’s communities and where casual bigotry against our community is seen as abhorrent and unacceptable. We promote understanding of atheists through education, outreach, and community-building and work to end the stigma associated with being an atheist in America. Religious liberty is guaranteed by the First Amendment to protect individual beliefs; it does not create special rights for religious individuals and organizations to violate neutral laws or discriminate against groups they disfavor. Nationwide, there are over 423,997 children in the foster care system.1 There are 5,231 children in foster care in Virginia and just over 2,000 of these children are in either long term foster care or awaiting adoption.1 Nationally, nearly 24,000 youth age out of foster care each year, finding themselves with no support at age 18. Furthermore, 20% of these youth which age out of foster care become homeless.2 HB 1932 addresses these troubling numbers by repealing the so-called “conscience clause,” which allows adoption and foster placement services to discriminate against potential families for these children. Nearly 40 states do not have such exemptions, and faith-based foster care and adoption agencies function well in these states, continuing to provide their services without discrimination. Without this repeal, child placement agencies that receive state funding will continue to be permitted to freely discriminate based on their religious beliefs. For example, these agencies could discriminate against would-be parents because they are (or are assumed to be) religious minorities or atheists, unmarried, LGBTQ, or have some other characteristic that the placement agency disfavors. Instead, placement decisions must be based on the best interest of the child, regardless of the agency’s religious beliefs. Currently, about 24% of adults are religiously unaffiliated, and atheists and agnostics make up about 7% of the total population.3 Therefore, even without considering the other categories of people affected, allowing foster placement agencies to discriminate on the basis of their religion will potentially exclude about a quarter of adults from providing a home for foster children, inevitably reducing the number of youth placed in loving, permanent homes. Moreover, repealing this harmful language will directly affect a significant number of religiously unaffiliated youth. Studies show that approximately 13% of youth ages 13-18 identify as atheists, with more than a third being nonreligious. Youth in Virginia’s child welfare systems are already at risk – their ability to find a permanent home should not be endangered just to create special privileges for religious organizations. We strongly urge you to support HB1932.

Last Name: Ratke Organization: enCircle Locality: Hanover

I am writing to express enCircle’s support for HB 1932. At enCircle (formerly Lutheran Family Services of Virginia), we are a Licensed Child Placing Agency (LCPA) that actively recruits and supports all kinds of qualified families, including LGBTQ families, to provide loving homes for children and youth in care. We believe it is wrong to discriminate against parents who are otherwise qualified to provide loving foster homes because of their identity. The child welfare system is a public system that uses taxpayer funds to support children in foster care and should not be used to discriminate against those who are LGBTQ. While we hope that passing this legislation does not cause any other LCPAs to cease serving children and families, we believe there is adequate capacity in the system to step in to maintain placements for the children who would be affected if that occurred. Agencies like ours have a history of working together in many ways to recruit foster families from all regions of the state and to best serve the children and youth with whom we work. Virginia still struggles to find loving homes for all the children and youth in care, and hundreds “age out” of the system every year without having permanent family connections. We should be working together to do all we can to find loving, supportive homes for ALL children.

Last Name: Ratke Organization: enCircle Locality: Hanover

I am writing to express enCircle’s support for HB 1932. At enCircle (formerly Lutheran Family Services of Virginia), we are a Licensed Child Placing Agency (LCPA) that actively recruits and supports all kinds of qualified families, including LGBTQ families, to provide loving homes for children and youth in care. We believe it is wrong to discriminate against parents who are otherwise qualified to provide loving foster homes because of their identity. The child welfare system is a public system that uses taxpayer funds to support children in foster care and should not be used to discriminate against those who are LGBTQ. While we hope that passing this legislation does not cause any other LCPAs to cease serving children and families, we believe there is adequate capacity in the system to step in to maintain placements for the children who would be affected if that occurred. Agencies like ours have a history of working together in many ways to recruit foster families from all regions of the state and to best serve the children and youth with whom we work. Virginia still struggles to find loving homes for all the children and youth in care, and hundreds “age out” of the system every year without having permanent family connections. We should be working together to do all we can to find loving, supportive homes for ALL children.

Last Name: Wilkinson Locality: Danville

Protect Faith Based Christian adoption in our land.

Last Name: Slater Organization: The Activated People Locality: Richmond

My name is Valerie Slater, Esq. and I submit testimony on behalf of RISE for Youth and The Activated People. We are in strong support of HB1932. Congregate care settings are not ideal placements for children in care. Those who grow up in congregate care are more likely to have lower graduation rates, greater risk of physical abuse, separation from siblings and communities of origin, and higher rates of aging out without reunification or adoption. Virginia’s law sends a message to LGBTQ kids that the State views them as less worthy of being parents – that the state would rather see youth age out of care than be placed with an LGBTQ-headed household. Kids do not get to choose which agency they are placed with and have diverse needs that are best served by a diverse pool of prospective parents. If a child is placed with an agency that turns away LGBTQ families, or other families not aligned with their faith, this is tantamount to the State allowing an agency to discriminate and potentially rob that child of the loving support of a family. Therefore we strongly support HB1932 to repeal the conscientious clause.

Last Name: Lee Organization: Chris Lee Locality: Woodbridge

You need to rescind HB1932. Stop being a tyrant.

Last Name: Dean Locality: Sutherland, Virginia, United States

Repealing this bill would greatly affect the speed with which children can be placed in adoptive homes. It also is unfair to faith-based agencies many of whom operate through donations and therefore can perform adoption services below the cost of for-profit agencies. In effect, you are punishing not only the agency but the potential family they are trying to help. Putting faith-based agencies out of business helps no one.

Last Name: Konyndyk Organization: America World Adoption Association Locality: Arlington

The reason often cited for passing this bill is that doing so would lead to be more families fostering or adopting. Currently, no one who wants to adopt or provide a foster home is prohibited from doing so in the Commonwealth of Virginia. There are agencies that serve families from ALL backgrounds and beliefs through the state, so this bill would not increase the number of foster and adoptive families, it would decrease the number of families and ultimately cause further harm to children by disrupting placements causing further trauma to many children. Please consider the wider damage you would do by enacting this bill, I ask that you oppose HB 1932.

Last Name: Winston Organization: GLSEN Richmond Locality: Henrico

Good Morning Madam Chairwoman and members of the Committee. I represent GLSEN Richmond Talking points on the issue of a Conscience clause primarily revolve around an organizations rights and a religious applicants rights. What about the rights of the child. The idea that a religious institution could force placement of a child identifying as LGBTQ+ in a religious focused home that would be unsupportive of that child's identity is really more reprehensible than the license to discriminate against LGBTQ+ potential parents argument. Conscience clauses do not really intend to free religious people but rather they are intended to box in or control others. GLSEN works to ensure that LGBTQ+ students are able to learn and grow in a school environment free from bullying and harassment. How said that people claiming religion as their mantel fight to maintain control of youth that might identify as LGBTQ+ by bullying. GLSEN Richmond endorses HB 1932.

Last Name: Caywood Organization: PFLAG Norfolk/South Hampton Roads, Equality Virgina Locality: Virginia Beach

I ask your support of HB1932 "Child-placing agencies; conscience clause" because an agency that chooses to discriminate against a category of people should not receive government funding. It is unjust that my tax dollars should fund an agency that would refuse to place a child in the loving home my friends can offer. Children need families. Since the “conscience clause” went into effect in 2012, adoptions have steadily decreased. And no wonder when qualified loving LGBTQ and religious-minority families fear being rejected. HB1932 will increase the available homes where children can grow up with loving families of all backgrounds.

Last Name: Reams Organization: The Up Center Locality: Norfolk

The Up Center is a licensed child-placing agency in Virginia providing foster and adoptive services. We envision a world where society and its systems (e.g. education, criminal justice, healthcare, housing, and the economy) are just, fair, and inclusive, enabling all people to participate and reach their full potential. We believe in the dignity and humanity of all people. We strive for a healthy and prosperous society that promotes all people having equitable access and opportunity. We recognize that to achieve our vision, we must lead our social sector in making the changes we want to see in society. Virginia needs more families who can provide homes from children in care, not more agencies to take state funds while refusing to place children in qualified homes. Kids in care have diverse needs, and to meet their best interests, the pool of parents should reflect that diversity. It is time to put an end to state-sponsored discrimination in child welfare. We also understand that some agencies may make the choice to end their foster-adoptive programs in Virginia. Our agency would be ready and willing to help move existing foster families to our agency to prevent any disruptions to the placements of youth in foster care. Agencies in Virginia close offices for a variety of reasons, and private child placing agencies frequently coordinate with one another to assure continuity of placements for youth who are currently placed with a foster family. We would do the same if needed for this reason. We are in support of HB 1932 and the repeal of the conscience clause.

Last Name: Merriman Locality: Patrick County

I would like to ask that you do not remove the conscience clause. I have adopted through the foster care system. While going through training there was a same sex couple there. They were given a placement. After going to other trainings later on, we found out that the couple had split up and the child was living with one of the men. I know that anyone can split up and even Christian couples can split up, however, I think that the child in this situation is going to suffer. If both original "dads" get new same sex partners, the child could end up with at least four dads. I think that children in this situation will face a hard life. Regardless of love in the home, the problems that happen outside of the home because of the lifestyle, I feel will assist in taking the child down the wrong path. There is just so much confusion. I work in early childhood education. We are being trained on numerous areas concerning social, emotional, and behavioral health. This is because of the rise in homes that are abusive and neglectful. As a bible believing Christian, I can't help but believe that going against God and his teachings are harmful. Many Christians would agree. There are organizations including the state social services that support non-natural marriages and families, so why attempt to shut down organizations because they believe that a two parent, mother and father home would be the best in helping a child to overcome the already difficult life of abuse and neglect and abandonment. Mentally, they are already extremely vulnerable. The people going to a faith based agency would be like minded people. If they didn't feel the way that organization felt, they are free to go through other organizations. Choice should be allowed. What I am saying is that the state should not force belief. People should get to choose.

Last Name: Blakeney Locality: Henrico

Please oppose HB 1932. Firstly, organizations ought to be able to freely operate within the realm of conscious. The existing law ensures that adoption and foster care agencies are not forced simply for remaining true and following deeply held beliefs. By removing the existing laws, organizations that serve many of the children in the Virginia foster care system will be at risk having to lose their license and shut their doors. Subsequently, prospective parents will lose the opportunity to partner with these organizations in providing homes for the nearly 5400 children that are in the Virginia foster care system. Secondly, the Supreme Court of the United States is expected to reach a decision soon regarding Fulton vs the City of Philadelphia. The court heard oral arguments in November of last year regarding a case in which the city of Philadelphia which refused to renew its contract with Catholic Social Services, after over 100 years of service in caring for children, over their stance on the traditional view marriage. Please oppose HB 1932 these organizations are a vital part of the Virginia adoption and foster care system and the well being of our children.

Last Name: Akers Locality: Forest

I do not support overturning the conscience clause. Virginia needs faith based organizations to handle adoptions without the interference of government meddling to require them to provide services against their religious beliefs.

Last Name: Stoltzfus Locality: Rockingham

Please protect faith-based adoption agencies and foster care agencies. I understand that there are 5,400 children in Virginia's foster care system now. Why would our state want to cut out agencies that are working hard to find good places for these needy children? When I was growing up our family hosted 5 foster children in total. Our first two were brought to our house by the county sheriff the same evening that their father had shot their mother. They sure needed the care my parents provided. What would have been the result if we had not been available? For the sake of foster children including those ready for adoption please oppose HB 1932. We need all the welcoming families that are approved.

Last Name: Powell Locality: Front Royal

I ask that this bill go no further. It is not only an affront to religious freedom, which is not to be considered a private concern, but the manner in which we interact with society to bring about good. A faith that is merely personal is no faith at all. And a government that refuses to respect the rights of those who wish to exercise their faith in the public arena gives hollow praise to the term freedom. Beyond that, I have deep concerns for the welfare of the children to be impacted by this -children who have already suffered instability and often neglect and trauma. Below is an abstract concerning a study that took pains to prove that the emotional well being of children of same sex marriages is just fine. Of course, one had to dig to find this little nugget of truth because it is not politically correct. But children aren't interested in politics, they just want a safe, stable home. I would emphasize the last statistic that states the incidence of sexual abuse in lesbian 'marriages' (those seeking adoption) goes from zero to 38%. There is also anecdotal evidence from children raised in such households that beg those who would listen not to subject children to this. Abstract Wainright and Patterson’s three studies of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health) examining children in 44 lesbian mother families comprise a key part of research efforts that have found no disadvantages in well-being for children with same-sex parents using a statistically representative national sample. Re-examination of the data finds that 27 of the 44 cases are misidentified heterosexual parents. Replication after removing the error cases finds that children with same-sex parents experience significantly lower autonomy and higher anxiety, but also better school performance, than do children with opposite-sex parents. Re-analysis of family type (same-sex vs. opposite-sex) by marriage status finds that, on a range of measures of child well-being, opposite-sex marriage is associated with improved outcomes, but same-sex marriage is associated with with lower outcomes. Comparing unmarried to married same-sex parents, above-average child depressive symptoms rises from 50% to 88%; daily fearfulness or crying rises from 5% to 32%; grade point average declines from 3.6 to 3.4; and child sex abuse by parent rises from zero to 38%.

Last Name: Biggs Locality: Round Hill

My family has two adopted children from a faith based agency in Virginia. It was important for our family to choose a faith based agency because for prospective parents, we had shared beliefs, confidence and trust in the agency that took us through a very stressful process. Our agency continues to provide our family support, resources, education, and community. I was able to encourage my friend to also adopt from the same agency. Our social worker who did our home studies would pray with us which made a huge difference when we had to overcome hugh obstacles that were out of our control. Please do not repeal the statutory conscience protection for faith based agencies.

Last Name: Rohmiller Organization: Family Equality Locality: McLean

As co-chairs of the Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign, a coalition of over 700 individual, state, and national partners in the child welfare, faith, and civil rights communities who seek to promote the best interests of children in the foster care system by increasing their access to loving placements, Family Equality supports HB 1932. To be clear, repeal of the so-called "conscience clause" law does not impact purely private agencies that do not receive taxpayer funds, nor does it force an agency to close. There are more than 40 states that do not have conscience clause laws in place, and faith-based foster care and adoption agencies operate in nearly all of them, just as they operated in Virginia prior to passage of this law. Virginia has one of the highest rates in the country of foster children who age out of care without reunification or adoption. We should encourage every qualified parent to foster and adopt children in care. Instead, our state gives agencies taxpayer funds to place children in homes but allows those agencies to turn away qualified families - not because they don't meet state criteria, but because they don't meet an agency's religious criteria. Same-sex couples are seven times more likely to foster and adopt than different-sex couples, but Virginia's "conscience clause law" sends a message that reinforces historical discrimination experienced by the LGBTQ community and deters LGBTQ families from reaching out to agencies to foster and adopt. This law can even preclude kinship placements. An agency can invoke this law to refuse to certify the family member of a child in their care as a foster home simply because the family member is LGBTQ or practices a different faith. At a time when our foster care crisis has only worsened due to COVID, this is simply unconscionable. Providing for the care of children who have been removed from their homes is one of the most critical responsibilities of this state. Agencies that voluntarily enter into contracts with the state to carry out this work and duty of care should be held to the same well-established professional standards as the state itself: promoting the best interest of the child. Virginia's "conscience clause" law does just the opposite, prioritizing an agency's beliefs over a child's best interests. We ask this subcommittee to put children first and pass HB 1932. Thank you.

Last Name: Curtis Locality: Manassas Park, VA

To Whom it may Concern: Thank you for taking the time to read my comments and feedback. This Bill is incredibly close to my heart as it would directly impact the work that I do and my own family. I currently work for a faith-based adoption agency in the Northern Virginia area. I am humbled to serve families who have adopted from all corners of the globe and who desire to raise their children in morally-grounded, faith-rooted homes here in Virginia and across the U.S. If this conscience clause were to be repealed, our agency, though private and NOT state-funded, would be susceptible to lawsuits, lack of equal protection under the law, and potential closure simply for existing to serve families of faith-backgrounds. Virginia has an incredibly diverse and widely available selection of welfare providers for foster and adoptive families to choose from. There is no shortage of options for families of all backgrounds, whether they align with a particular religion or not. I ask you then, why would it be beneficial to remove the faith-based options, or expose them to lack of protection under the law, for families who do choose to partner with an agency based on shared beliefs? As an individual and family who hopes to one day adopt a child, it is incredibly important to me to have faith-based options that can provide holistic services, support, resources, and referrals within the scope of our shared beliefs and values. Raising a child with a trauma history is hard enough without the necessary support and vital role these agencies play in our welfare system. Keep Virginia's welfare provider options diverse and protect faith-based agencies for families who need them! Please oppose HB 1932. Thank you for your time, Amy

Last Name: Candusso Locality: Newport News

As the parent of two adopted children, adoption is close to my heart. Furthermore, with respect to the fact that one of our birth parents was seeking a Christian family, consisting of both a mother and father, I respectfully ask that you continue the religious conscience protections for these agencies. In a country where there is freedom of religion, we should not have to compromise in this. There are many secular agencies including social services for those who wish to refrain from our beliefs. This bill would not allow birth parents who want their children in Christian homes to feel as though they have a choice for their child. Furthermore, as Christians, we are not perfect, only forgiven. We know we sometimes mess up, but God, in his infinite wisdom made a way for forgiveness. There are many Christian birth mothers and fathers who have found themselves in a situation of an unexpected pregnancy and instead of abortion choose adoption and want their children raised in the Christian faith. The government should dictate what they can or cannot have for their child in this matter.

Last Name: Centrella Locality: Warren

I urge you not to not to repeal statutory conscience protections for faith-based organizations. These organizations provide homes for children. Regardless, they should not be forced to act against their own consciences or close their doors.

Last Name: Lacks Locality: Lunenburg

My husband and I adopted 4 children through a local Christian adoption agency. It has been the greatest blessing in our life. I respectfully ask that you continue the religious conscience protections for these agencies. There are many agencies that are not faith based. Our Christian faith should not be a target .We would not have adopted through any agency but a faith based one. This bill will deprive children of homes and families of children as it will force faith based agencies to close. That would be awful for so many.

Last Name: Williams Locality: Staunton

Adoption agencies should be able to place children in homes that reflect their conscience!! Faith based groups should work along the beliefs and conscience of their faith.

Last Name: Nartowicz Organization: Americans United for Separation of Church and State Locality: Washington, DC

On behalf of Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s Virginia supporters, I urge you to support HB 1932. This bill would help ensure children in foster care get the services they need and have the best opportunity to find loving homes. It would repeal § 63.2-1709.3 of the Code of Virginia, which allows state-funded child placement agencies to use religion to justify denying services to children and discriminating against prospective parents simply because they are the “wrong” religion. Section 63.2-1709.3 is not necessary to allow faith-based groups to provide foster and adoption care services—as noted in the impact statement, faith-based child placing agencies operated in Virginia before the law was passed. And faith-based organizations across the country currently provide these services in many states that don’t have this type of harmful law on the books. Repealing § 63.2-1709.3 would prevent child placing agencies from discriminating against qualified prospective parents who are the “wrong” religion, like what has happened at Miracle Hill Ministries in South Carolina. Three women who wanted nothing more than to help children in foster care have faced discrimination: • Aimee Maddonna, a Catholic mother of three who grew up in a family who provided a home for countless children in foster care, had been told by Miracle Hill that her family was a great fit to work with kids. Instead of being able to provide loving experiences to children in care, Miracle Hill told Maddonna they only work with people “who are Protestant Christian.” Maddonna has filed suit to stop this government-sanctioned religious discrimination. To learn more about Maddonna’s case, please visit https://www.au.org/fostercare. • Motivated by Jewish values and her father’s own experience in foster care, Lydia Currie and her husband wanted to expand their family by fostering. But Currie’s family was turned away because they are not evangelical Protestant. • Beth Lesser, who is also Jewish, attended a training co-hosted by Miracle Hill and completed background checks before she was told that she could not mentor or foster children because she’s Jewish. We appreciate the important role religiously affiliated institutions historically have played in partnership with the government to provide foster care services. Effective government collaboration with faith-based groups, however, has not and does not require the sanctioning of discrimination with taxpayer funds. No taxpayer-funded organization should be able to use a religious litmus test to refuse to provide services to children or place them in a safe and happy family. For these reasons, Americans United supports HB 1932. Nikolas Nartowicz Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Last Name: Ricardo Organization: C2Adopt (a private, licensed child placing agency in Richmond VA) Locality: Goochland County

C2Adopt Supports the Repeal of the Conscious Clause for the following reasons and raises the following questions: • We need to focus on increasing the pool of families available to foster and adopt the nearly 4,000 children in our VA foster care system and over 600 waiting for adoptive families • We are already serving LGBTQ youth and need to ensure that those youth have access to accepting and affirming families • The Conscious Clause is not consistent with the Virginia Values Act • There is no evidence that any LCPA has invoked use of the Conscious Clause since it’s enactment • C2Adopt is confident that there are other LCPAs who would and could meet the needs of children and families if any entity felt that by this repeal they could no longer provide child-placement services in Virginia • We raise the question of how have faith based organizations functioned differently since the Conscious Clause was enacted than prior to having it? • We raise the question of how a repeal of the Conscious Clause would cause any agency to function differently and why?

Last Name: Calhoun Organization: Co-leader Lewinsville Faith in Action Locality: Falls Church

I have already submitted written testimony and am in full support.

Last Name: Calhoun Organization: Lewinsville Faith in Action Locality: Falls Church

I write as former U.S. Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families where I played a major role in helping to pass 96272, The Child Welfare and Adoption Act opf 1980, a bill which stressed finding and strengthening family strengths, and, not finding them in immediate or extended family, moving swiftly to adoption. Permanency was one of the core policy foundations. I also worked on this from a different position when serving as Commissioner of Youth Services in MA. there stressing support for delinquent children, and that failing, moving to adoption. And it was tough to find adoptive parents as many of these kids were wounded, angry, traumatized. Loving, courageous, committed adoptive families are hard to find, and thus I'm in full support which would widen the net of those willing to adopt. Anything you can do to expand the reservoir of loving folks ready and willing to adopt, I heartily applaud. Co-Leader, Lewinsville Faith in Action Consultant, National League of Cities

Last Name: DeGrave Organization: American Atheists Locality: Newport News

As a Virginia resident and an Assistant State Director for American Atheists, which has over 1,600 constituents in Virginia, I testify in support of HB1932, a bill that would end state-sanctioned discrimination in foster care and adoption based on religious beliefs. Every young person in Virginia deserves a loving home. This legislation would increase the number of available foster and adoption families, leading to more availability for children in foster care to have a loving, permanent home. We strongly urge you to support this bill. American Atheists is a national civil rights organization that works to achieve religious equality for all Americans by protecting what Thomas Jefferson called the “wall of separation” between government and religion created by the First Amendment. We strive to create an environment where atheism and atheists are accepted as members of our nation’s communities and where casual bigotry against our community is seen as abhorrent and unacceptable. We promote understanding of atheists through education, outreach, and community-building and work to end the stigma associated with being an atheist in America. Religious liberty is guaranteed by the First Amendment to protect individual beliefs; it does not create special rights for religious individuals and organizations to violate neutral laws or discriminate against groups they disfavor. children are in either long term foster care or awaiting adoption.1 Nationally, nearly 24,000 youth age out of foster care each year, finding themselves with no support at age 18. Furthermore, 20% of these youth which age out of foster care become homeless.2 HB 1932 addresses these troubling numbers by repealing the so-called “conscience clause,” which allows adoption and foster placement services to discriminate against potential families for these children. Nearly 40 states do not have such exemptions, and faith-based foster care and adoption agencies function well in these states, continuing to provide their services without discrimination. Without this repeal, child placement agencies that receive state funding will continue to be permitted to freely discriminate based on their religious beliefs. For example, these agencies could discriminate against would-be parents because they are (or are assumed to be) religious minorities or atheists, unmarried, LGBTQ, or have some other characteristic that the placement agency disfavors. Instead, placement decisions must be based on the best interest of the child, regardless of the agency’s religious beliefs. Currently, about 24% of adults are religiously unaffiliated, and atheists and agnostics make up about 7% of the total population.3 Therefore, even without considering the other categories of people affected, allowing foster placement agencies to discriminate on the basis of their religion will potentially exclude about a quarter of adults from providing a home for foster children, inevitably reducing the number of youth placed in loving, permanent homes. Moreover, repealing this harmful language will directly affect a significant number of religiously unaffiliated youth. Studies show that approximately 13% of youth ages 13-18 identify as atheists, with more than a third being nonreligious. We strongly urge you to support HB1932.

Last Name: Silcox Organization: RISE for Youth Locality: Richmond

RISE for Youth supports this bill and urges the committee to act favorably on HB 1932. The only requirement that we should have for foster or adoptive families is that they provide a safe and loving home. We must repeal this unnecessary conscience clause.

Last Name: Wright Locality: Glen Allen

I am for nurse practitioner to be able to practice without a doctor being there

HB1962 - Foster care; termination of parental rights, relatives and fictive kin.
Last Name: McCullough Locality: Herndon

As a Foster Parent with Fairfax County DFS for the last six years, I do not write in support nor against this bill. However, I do want to provide testimony from direct experience with the Foster Care System that should be taken into account in regards to the definition of “fictive kin.” I could not agree more with the notion that the best permanency plan for children in foster care is with their immediate or extended family. I would also agree that placement with true fictive kin is more ideal than the child being adopted outside of their relational network. However, we have been involved with cases where we had a Foster Child who was permanently placed with “Fictive Kin” due to the lack of willingness of any immediate or extended family to care for the child. However, it was admitted by DFS staff that the family that was selected and designated as “Fictive Kin” were in fact not true fictive kin. To quote the social worker on the case: “This family is a friend of a friend of the child’s great Aunt who wants a baby.” Upon raising speculation on if this was the best permanency plan by both us and the CASA worker, we were told not to ask these kinds of questions. On top of that, the case ended up being transferred from Fairfax DFS to Arlington DFS because the person designated as “fictive kin” was an employee of Fairfax DFS and it was declared a conflict of interest. I understand this might be an isolated case. However, I do think it speaks to the need to be very specific and objective about who qualifies as “fictive kin” or “a person of interest” so as to make sure that this policy is not abused and therefore perpetuates more trauma for the child. Interested parties need to be able to demonstrate why someone deserves the label of “fictive kin.” I believe the policy aspiration of this bill is good but I also believe it presents a level of subjectivity that might actually create an outcome opposite of what the bill is seeking to accomplish.

Last Name: Edwards Organization: Voices for Virginia's Children Locality: Henrico

In 2018, Black women died two and a half times more often that white women. Research derived from the National Vital Statistics Reports found that, of the 658 women who died of maternal causes in 2019, Black women fared the worst, dying two and a half times more often than white women. Black women have historically been susceptible to poor maternal health outcomes, some of which is suspected to be a combination of institutionalized racism and health disparities, such as obesity and hypertension. Black women are also less likely to have access to quality prenatal care. We are supportive of policy solutions that create opportunities that close gaps in disparities, such as this. Please support this bill.

HB2002 - Child support; health care coverage, eligibility requirements.
Last Name: Nadwodny Locality: Gainesville

Why would you force a vaccine when hyrdroechloraquin and other drugs heal people. CDC says 99.9% of people recover. Why are you using the tool of fear. What is in it for you. It’s being said that covid is just the first part of this bio weapon. The next part will kill those who were diagnosed with it. If you keep this up there won’t be any one to vote. Oh that’s right. Depopulation is part of the plan. You reap what you sow.

Last Name: Singleton Organization: Office of the Executive Secretary, Supreme Court of Virginia Locality: Richmond

I write to express the concerns of the juvenile and domestic relations court judges who have reviewed House Bill 2002. Although we do not have an official position yet, a committee of judges who reviewed this bill has recommended opposing this bill for the following reasons. 1. The bill is burdensome on the courts as it would place the requirement on the JDR and circuit courts to perform a function that is more properly that of the Executive Branch and one which an Executive Branch agency is required to perform: determination of Medicaid eligibility. Judges and courts do not have the time or the resources to perform this function. 2. The requirement for courts to compare public and private insurance coverage plans that may be available to families is a function outside the role of judges. Judges make findings and rulings based on the evidence presented by the parties. If the parties do not submit the relevant evidence, judges would have to look outside the record before them for the pertinent information to make these determinations. 3. Performing these functions would cause delays in the entry of final support orders, increase the use of pendente lite orders, and increase the number of hearings required to dispose of support cases, burdening the courts’ resources and interfering with the administration of justice for other litigants. 4. Requiring the court to perform these functions would also deprive the family of the choice of having their child on private medical insurance rather than public health insurance.

HB2035 - Virginia Initiative for Education and Work; participants, modifies Full Employment Program.
Last Name: Golden Organization: Virginia Department of Social Services Locality: City of Richmond, VA

HB 2035 is an administration bill and has the strong support of the Virginia Department of Social Services. The Full Employment Program provides employer subsidies for hiring and training TANF recipients. There are several areas in the Full Employment Program, which if addressed, will greatly improve it. 1) The current employer stipend is too low and does not attract employers. 2) TANF recipients are reluctant to participate because they lose their TANF benefits. 3) Case managers are reluctant to assign participants to the program because people that do not receive a TANF payment are excluded from the calculation of the state’s work participation rate. In other words, staff do not receive “credit” for these placements. 4) Case managers find it difficult to devote the time necessary to recruit employers. This legislation addresses all of these issues by increasing the employer stipend, allowing the participant to retain TANF benefits, and including funding for two job developer positions. Funding for this bill is included in Governor Northam’s introduced budget. I urge you to support HB 2035 and make the Full Employment Program a more effective tool to obtain employment opportunities for TANF recipients. Mark L. Golden TANF Program Manager Virginia Department of Social Services mark.golden@dss.virginia.gov

Last Name: Nadwodny Locality: Gainesville

Why would you force a vaccine when hyrdroechloraquin and other drugs heal people. CDC says 99.9% of people recover. Why are you using the tool of fear. What is in it for you. It’s being said that covid is just the first part of this bio weapon. The next part will kill those who were diagnosed with it. If you keep this up there won’t be any one to vote. Oh that’s right. Depopulation is part of the plan. You reap what you sow.

HB2086 - Child care providers; background checks, portability.
Last Name: Nadwodny Locality: Gainesville

Why would you force a vaccine when hyrdroechloraquin and other drugs heal people. CDC says 99.9% of people recover. Why are you using the tool of fear. What is in it for you. It’s being said that covid is just the first part of this bio weapon. The next part will kill those who were diagnosed with it. If you keep this up there won’t be any one to vote. Oh that’s right. Depopulation is part of the plan. You reap what you sow.

Last Name: Aliff Organization: Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists Locality: Mechanicsvlle

The Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists supports HB2086 and the help it will provide for day cares including those represented by some of our churches. Some of our day cares have been negatively impacted and closed, therefore this will help those who may seek employment elsewhere. Thank you. Eddy Aliff Executive Director

Last Name: Saxon Organization: VEA Locality: Charlottesville

The Virginia Education Association opposes this bill.

HB2289 - Children's Services Act; eligibility for state pool of funds, any child or youth.
Last Name: Milling Organization: The Arc of Virginia Locality: Richmond

HB 2289 The Arc of Virginia appreciates Del. Austin introducing this legislation. While we do not oppose the intent of this legislation, work on CSA-related legislation during this session has led us to refocus advocacy efforts on the full and successful implementation of JLARC Recommendation # 3. Recommendation 3 requires equity in access to CSA funding in the public setting, to pay for necessary ongoing services for students who transition from private day back to public school, post-transition. This full, appropriate implementation of recommendation 3 will ensure a strong foundation of educational policy from which to build towards implementation of additional recommendations. We strongly urge legislators to make certain that any and all policy proposals moving forward include this critical addition language - providing for CSA funds to continue serving this specific student population in the public setting, after the transition period. Thank you, Tonya Milling, The Arc of Virginia

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