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Alaina Browning is everything a new mother would want if she’s considering giving up her child for adoption. Browning, who’s 30, and her husband have a stable income and a nice home, and they’ve been foster parents in the past. They have a five-year-old daughter and they could conceive again if they wanted to, but they felt adoption was the right path forward for their family. They knew the process would be complicated, as it always is, but they were as qualified as anyone else.

The biggest complication, it turned out, is the fact that they’re non-religious.

Browning reached out to Alabama Family Adoption Services, a private child placement agency licensed by the state, because that seemed like the best option. It wasn’t a faith-based company, for one, and they even appeared to be the only such agency in the state that worked with same-sex couples. So when she asked if her non-religiosity would be a problem… she was hoping for the best.

She was quickly told it was a problem: “I am sorry, we could not work with you. We are not specific about one’s faith but the biological families that we work with do request that our adoptive families have a spiritual life.”

Lee Hedgepeth of CBS 42 news spoke with Susan Wyatt of that adoption agency about this decision:

Wyatt, who with her husband Richard runs Alabama Family Adoption Services, said that she’s sorry the message upset Browning. 

She confirmed that her agency does not work with adoptive families who are not religious, but she said it’s because of the wishes of birth mothers. 

“In the cases that we’ve found in 36 years, most of our mothers come to us asking that the adoptive families have a belief system,” she said. “We’ve placed children with Jewish families. We did have an Indian family at one point. I don’t think that we’ve ever had a Muslim family.”

In other words, Wyatt was saying she doesn’t have anything against atheists, but the birth mothers almost always look for a religious home, so it’s not worth vetting a couple and putting them on the list if their lack of religious faith would be a dealbreaker from the get-go.

The flip side of that, however, is that birth mothers may realize that the Brownings are such an incredible couple for other reasons, that their original religious desires might fall by the wayside. If the Brownings can’t even get through the door, though, because no adoption agency will work with them, how would birth mothers know their options?

Kudos to Hedgepeth for asking a fantastic follow-up question: If a birth mother wanted her child to be placed in a secular home, THEN would the Wyatts help facilitate it?

The answer should’ve been an immediate yes. That was not the answer.

Wyatt also said that although they have not dealt with any such cases, she’s unsure whether her agency would facilitate an adoption for a birth mother who, for example, expressed a preference for a non-religious home. She and her husband, who co-own the agency, would have to discuss the issue, she said. 

What’s there to discuss? No clue. But it seems like Wyatt’s own religious beliefs are clouding her judgments about which people would make excellent parents.

All of it has made Browning reconsider whether or not she even wants to continue the adoption process.

For her part, Alaina Browning said that she and her husband are reconsidering whether to adopt at all because of the barriers that have already blocked their path. But she said she hopes agencies like Wyatt’s become more open to those who don’t identify as religious. 

“I think they’re looking at it as an absence or a vacuum instead of its own faith, in a way,” she said. 

… 

“These kids still need homes,” she said. “We may still pursue adoption, but the system needs to be reworked. There’s only so much that can be done when it’s the private sector, but this presents a barrier to getting kids into happy, healthy homes.”

That’s really what this is all about: If the people running these agencies actually care about acting in the best interests of the children, then they would be doing everything they could to match kids with good parents, even if they don’t match some outdated, archaic checklist of what “good” means. Faith, for example, doesn’t belong anywhere on that list.

By the way, this story only took off because Browning has been open about the adoption process online. In her post about this particular story, she writes, “You can be good without God. Secular morality is real… Not believing doesn’t make me—or my husband, or my child—bad people.”

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.