The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is objecting on constitutional grounds to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services endorsement of religion.
A concerned Tennessee resident who went through training to become a foster parent reported that the Department of Children’s Services requires aspiring foster parents to watch a video called “Characteristics of Resource Parents,” which includes a segment called “Spirituality.” The segment opens by explaining that “the challenges of adding additional children to your family can seem overwhelming at times and not only will you need to have resources in place but also a belief in something greater than you that you can go to for peace and comfort.” This introduction is followed by clips of foster parents discussing the importance of religion in foster care:
Oh, my spirituality is my everything because being a single parent I have to rely on God.
Prayer is the most important thing. Praying not only for our situation, praying for those biological families, praying for the system that kind of helps govern what goes on on the journey of fostering...
I think it’s been good for us to rely on our faith, as well, because there are days that you think I can’t get through this, but you know with god that you can. It doesn’t matter what your religion is. We know that we can make it through the day because we have somebody that is watching over us.
By requiring potential foster parents to watch a video advocating for religious belief, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is impermissibly endorsing religion and violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“As a government agency, DCS is prohibited from endorsing religion over nonreligion or Christianity over all other faiths,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich. “The Supreme Court has said time and again that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”
Additionally and importantly, this required video conveys a preference by the Department of Children’s Services for foster parents to have religious beliefs by implying that a belief in a higher power is necessary to be a foster parent. This alienates the 24 percent of Americans who are not religious.
“The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services cannot have prospective parents jump through religious hoops,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s an affront to all freethinking Tennesseans desiring to be foster parents.”
FFRF is asking that the Department of Children’s Services discontinue using the portion of its training video that endorses religion.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 33,000 members and several chapters across the country, including hundreds of members in Tennessee and a local chapter, FFRF East Tennessee. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.