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Western Massachusetts couple accuses state's foster care agency of religious discrimination

Mike and Kitty Burke of Southampton, Massachusetts.
Submitted photo
Mike and Kitty Burke of Southampton, Massachusetts.

A western Massachusetts couple is suing state officials for discrimination, alleging they've been prohibited from caring for foster children because of their religious beliefs.

After dealing with infertility, Mike and Kitty Burke of Southampton said they decided to try to have children by fostering and eventually adopting them.

But in a federal lawsuit, they said the state Department of Children and Families has denied them from doing so because of their religious beliefs. The Burkes are Catholic.

Those beliefs include that marriage is between a man and a woman and that sex should only occur within such a marriage.

The Burkes said they also told DCF interviewers they would not assist with gender confirmation surgery for a child if that came up during their care.

"During the home interviews, the Burkes were troubled that much of the questioning centered around their views on sexuality and their response if a child were, in the future, to struggle with gender dysphoria or to identify as gay or lesbian," the complaint said. "They estimate that a third of the time in the interviews was spent on these questions."

The Burkes are represented by Will Haun, an attorney with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

DCF "has a lot of flexibility to maximize the number of foster families in the system," Hahn said in an interview Friday. "But — instead — Massachusetts used that discretion as a weapon against religious families who have disfavored beliefs."

The Massachusetts attorney general's office, which usually represents state agencies in court, declined comment, as did DCF.

"The Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the Department of Children and Families have not yet been served with this lawsuit and do not comment on pending litigation," a DCF spokesperson said.

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.