Massachusetts Couple Says State Rejected Them As Foster Parents Because of Their Catholic Faith

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A couple from Massachusetts claims the Commonwealth has barred them from fostering children because their Catholic faith would prevent them from affirming a child’s homosexuality or gender identity.

Mike and Catherine Burke of Southampton filed a lawsuit (Burke v. Walsh) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on Tuesday with the help of the religious liberty legal organization Becket Law, claiming the state denied them the opportunity to foster children because they hold Catholic views on gender, sexuality, and marriage.

“After months of interviews and training, and after years of heartbreak, we were on the verge of finally becoming parents,” the couple said in a written statement released by Becket Law. “We were absolutely devastated to learn that Massachusetts would rather children sleep in the hallways of hospitals than let us welcome children in need into our home.”

The couple’s complaint claims one of the reasons the state gave for denying the couple’s foster application was that they “would not be affirming to a child who identified as LGBTQIA.”

“As faithful Catholics, the Burkes believe that all children should be loved and supported, and they would never reject a child placed in their home. They also believe that children should not undergo procedures that attempt to change their God-given sex, and they uphold Catholic beliefs about marriage and sexuality,” the complaint continues.

The lawsuit names as defendants Kate Walsh, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Officer of Health and Human Services; Linda Spears, the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families Linda Spears; and several other state employees.

The suit includes a copy of the letter notifying the Burkes of their application denial.

Here is what it says, in part:


In order to be licensed as a foster/adoptive parent, a foster/pre-adoptive parent applicant must meet the following requirements: (1) A foster/pre-adoptive parent applicant must demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the Department the ability: (d) to promote the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of a child placed in his or her care, including supporting and respecting a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity; (e) to respect and make efforts to support the integrity of a child’s racial, ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious background


The letter also notes that the state’s Foster Child Bill of Rights says every child “shall be treated with respect by DCF staff, foster parents and providers without regard to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and/or disability.”

The lawsuit aims to prevent the Bay States from denying foster licenses to religious applicants. It also seeks “nominal and compensatory damages” from the defendants.

The Massachusetts Health and Human Services, Massachusetts Department of Children & Families, and Becket Law could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

An image of the letter the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families sent the Burkes is below:


Letter to Michael and Catherine Burke from the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, dated March 31, 2023. Source: Complaint of lawsuit Burke v. Walsh, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on Tuesday, August 8, 2023.



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