Monday, December 19, 2011

Bill Aims to Maintain Adoptee's Religious Identity

The Jewish Standard reports on a bill introduced in New Jersey:
An Orthodox Jewish member of the New Jersey State Assembly introduced a bill that would require adoptees to be placed in homes that would “maintain a child’s religious upbringing.”

Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Dist. 36), who represents portions of Bergen and Passaic counties, said he introduced the bill out of concern that an adoptee or foster child could be “put in a home where the parents practiced a religion other than that of the child.”

Within a day of the bill’s introduction, Schaer said, it has already received support from David Mandel, the chief executive officer of the Orthodox Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services in Brooklyn and from Aref Assaf, president of the American Arab Forum and an advisory board member of the New Jersey Council on American Islamic Relations.

“Not only Jews and Muslims, but many smaller Protestant sects, and even some people in the Catholic community” are supporting the measure, Schaer said.

* * *

The bill also requires that, in cases where a child is placed with a family of a different religious faith, provisions be made so that the child could attend services conducted in his or her own religious faith.
What do you think?  Religious matching was extremely common at one time, and some states have statutes that require matching if the birth parents request it even today.  We've discussed it before in the context of international adoption, asking if maintaining culture includes maintaining religion.

UPDATE:  Dr. Aref Assaf posted a link in the comments (thank you!) to his column, An interfaith effort to protect foster care children, about some of the problems in the foster care system that this bill is design to address:

Can the State force the change of a child’s religion? An opinion piece I wrote on the relevance of the religious dimension of foster care children has formed the foundation for an important legislation in New Jersey. The columnwas the result of a painful interview I had with the parent of a Muslim child who tearfully related the details of how his son, after being placed with a Christian family, had his faith changed and his name was no longer ‘Abdulrahman”but “Joshua.” Even before the father lost his parental rights, the conversion process was fully underway despite the stern objection of the birth parents.
That such a conversion of child’s faith would occur under the watchful eyes of the state is a case of deliberate negligence at minimum. Delving further, I discovered that our current laws give no credence to the pivotal role of religion in a child self-identification and sense of self worth. The State has in effect become complicit in furthering the trauma and anxiety of children under its care.

Does this change your mind about the bill? Does foster care v. adoption make a difference? 


Kris said...

I think it is good to place an older child in a family of the same religion if at all possible.

I think the natural parents should make the decision in the case of newborn adoption. I don't think it should be mandated in newborn adoption. The natural parents are capable of making the call. Some will feel strongly and some won't care.

Karen said...

You've GOT TO BE KIDDING me. Notice how all the religious people who agree to it are from religions that you are "born into" You dont just change to Catholicism or to being Muslim.
How UTTERLY arrogant that a religious person can proclaim that the child being adopted be raised with that same religious background. What if the APs are not that religion? They have to convert with this bill? That is over stepping the privacy and religious rights of a family. Frankly, once a child is adopted, it is up to the APs to decide how to raise the child...NO ONE ELSE. If it's so dang important to the guy making this bill, then he can just adopt as many jewish children possible, and raise them....same goes for his supporters for Muslim and Catholic adoptions.
Honestly, LOVE and SUPPORT is more important than what religion a child is BORN into, and I'll bet if you stood before God and asked Him, he would say the same!
THIS bill gets me upset on so many levels.

maryanne said...

This is bullshit, especially coming from an Orthodox Jew. They have been adopting and converting Christian children for decades in the US, in domestic and international adoptions.
Most of the Jewish raised adoptees I know were not born Jewish.

I think that the surrendering parents should be able to request that their child be placed with a family of the same faith if it is important to them, but it should not be a law.

Anonymous said...

I concur with the previous poster.

Robin said...

As an adoptee I am grateful that I was placed in a family that was the same religion as my first mother as it let me keep some of my original heritage. My n-father was a different religion and I do feel that I missed out by not being exposed to it more while growing up.

Judaism only passes through the female line so I am not surprised that rabbis would want to ensure that children with a Jewish first mother are raised Jewish. With so many interfaith marriages the number of Jews is declining significantly.

I don't like the idea of making a law where children have to attend religious services according to their birth religion if it is didn't than the APs. This would only serve to alienate the child and make him feel like more of an outsider in the family.

Aref Assaf said...

Do not jump to conclusions.Read the online column that led to this legilsation in New Jersey, USA. Here is the link:

maybe said...

I think if the natural parents are choosing which family to place their child in, then they have every right to specify a religious preference. However, I don't see how this could be mandated by law; people do change their minds regarding their religion - they may convert to another belief system or decide to completely walk away from religion altogether.

As in all other areas of adoption, the circumstances of the adoptive and natural families at the time of placement are subject to change over time. There are no guarantees in adoption, religious or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I think it really depends on the circumstance. I would guess that in most cases, religion is not all that important in the lives of the people involved. But in the rare case that it is, it would be ideal if the child's and parents' religions were the same.

Anonymous said...

Where I live, at least, choosing the religion of a child in foster care is one of the birth parents' rights, though I think it often gets overlooked. The two children who are placed with us are from a non-religious home, though their parents said it would be fine for us to take them to church if we were going anyway so it wouldn't disrupt our family traditions. I've taken the 5-year-old to the church building where I tutor so she could do her homework while I worked with the older kids, but that's the only church connection she's had.

We really weren't sure about the religious background of our now-adopted daughter but even though I'm an atheist, I've made it a priority to keep her involved in a black church because I thought the odds were good that this would give her an experience like what she'd have had if she'd remained with her family. Now that we do have connections with her family and know that they are religiously active, I'm extra glad that she'll have that shared "language" in interacting with them.