At a public hearing on Sen. Mark Kolterman’s LB975 Tuesday, February 17, Sen. Adam Morfeld accused faith-based foster agencies of “violating federal code” when they follow their sincerely held religious beliefs in recruiting and training foster parents. The following day, during an interview televised on KETV, Sen. Morfeld repeated his accusation, saying, “I was shocked that they are violating a clear executive order by President Bush.”
Unfounded charges like these must not go unanswered.
I testified at the public hearing and witnessed Sen. Morfeld’s badgering of the courageous citizen-witnesses who testified in support of LB975. Contrary to Sen. Morfeld’s claims, the Executive Order he referenced actually encourages faith-based agencies to provide social services. The Order points out that the nation’s social services capacity will benefit if faith-based agencies are able to compete on equal footing with other agencies.
The Executive Order prohibits discrimination by foster care agencies against “beneficiaries” of federal support. These beneficiaries are the children whom foster parents and foster agencies serve. Neither foster agencies nor foster parents receive federal funding for their own purposes. The children are the beneficiaries and there has been no evidence, allegation, or even suggestion that any faith-based foster care agency in Nebraska is discriminating against the children they serve.
Contrary to the Sen. Morfeld’s mischaracterization, the Executive Order actually reiterates the important role that faith-based agencies play in our nation’s social services system. The overarching purpose of the Order is to protect and preserve faith-based agencies for the good of the entire system. That’s also the purpose of LB975.
Sen. Morfeld’s accusations are not only baseless, they are wrong. As a lawyer, Sen. Morfeld should know better than to make erroneous allegations in a public forum. In addition to his misuse of the executive order, he ambushed another testifier with a Pennsylvania trial court decision that found a foster agency was a “state actor.” As a lawyer, Sen. Morfeld knows that cases are fact-dependent and court decisions vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. He also knows that a Pennsylvania trial court decision is not binding in Nebraska.
Sen. Morfeld’s broadside attacks, while completely unfounded, actually demonstrate the need for LB975. Faith-based agencies have a long history of providing exemplary services for children in need. Last year, one Nebraska faith-based agency cared for more than 400 children. The state cannot afford to lose agencies who provide this vital service.
The purpose of LB975 is to protect faith-based agencies from adverse actions by the State when these agencies follow their faith-based mission in recruiting foster parents. Like the Executive Order cited by Sen. Morfeld, LB975 seeks to preserve the ability of faith-based agencies to continue serving Nebraska’s most vulnerable children.