A code for religious discrimination

Our view: Must one serve pork to qualify as a responsible foster parent?

April 16, 2010

With all the orphaned and abandoned children in need of loving homes, does anyone really believe that serving pork should be a requirement for good foster parenting? Crazy as it sounds, that's apparently the belief of a private company authorized by the state of Maryland to place foster children. And it's so absurd that it's hard to conclude the real motivation is anything but religious bias.

The case came to light Wednesday when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the Baltimore City Community Relations Commission against a company called Contemporary Family Services, which has a contract with the state to screen foster-parent candidates. The complaint alleges the agency illegally discriminated against a Middle River couple when it denied them a license to become foster parents because they refused to serve pork or pork products in their home.

The couple, Tashima Crudup, 26, and Andre Moore, 39, are Muslims. But in their application and interviews with the licensing agency, both indicated they would welcome a foster child of a different faith in their home. A social worker who visited them reported they had "an understanding that there are many religions and that they are accepting of religious practices other than their own. ... Additionally, they express a willingness to make arrangements to have a child attend the church of his or her own choice if so requested."

According to the agency's own report, the couple had a spacious home in which they were raising five children, had completed 30 hours of training as foster parents and had no criminal record. Mr. Moore was employed as a truck driver, and Ms. Crudup, who had been a foster child herself and wanted to give back some of the love she had received as a kid, was a stay-at-home mom. And though the family attended a mosque in Baltimore regularly, and the women wore traditional head coverings, there was no suggestion they were religious zealots. Ms. Crudup even said she would have no objection to her foster children eating pork in venues outside her home, including school outings or restaurants.

Nevertheless, they were turned down for a license. The reason? "Because of concerns raised by statements made during the home study interview, specifically your explicit request to prohibit pork products within your home environment," the agency's letter stated.

The ACLU says that decision was motivated purely by bias, since there's no reasonable basis for denying the couple a license merely because they refuse to serve pork at home. Under that standard, Orthodox Jews, who also eschew pork, couldn't become foster parents either; nor could many Catholics, who refuse meat on Friday, Hindus, for whom the cow is sacred, or vegetarians (not to mention vegans). Since nobody has ever suggested that any of these groups are unfit to be foster parents because of their dietary habits, it is safe to wonder whether Ms. Crudup and Mr. Moore have been singled out simply because of anti-Muslim bigotry.

The city community relations commission needs to conduct a thorough investigation into these charges; at the very least, it ought to make clear that religion is not a disqualification to be a foster parent. The state human services department should also look into the matter to see whether licensing agencies like Contemporary Family Services are complying with its own anti-discrimination regulations and what sanctions are appropriate for those that aren't. There are thousands of kids across the state who desperately need stable homes and loving caretakers; that's what foster care and adoption officials should be focusing on, not on which meat dish gets put on the table every night.

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