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Will Florida Senate Recognize That Every Child Has the Right To Be Loved?

| April 10, 2015

The Florida House approved a bill this week that would allow religious organizations to discriminate  in the placement of children. The Senate has a chance to reverse the measure. (Amanda Tipton)

The Florida House approved a bill this week that would allow religious organizations to discriminate in the placement of children. The Senate has a chance to reverse the measure. (Amanda Tipton)

By Martin Dyckman

In May of 1957, people across the nation were anxious over a decision that Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins was about to make in a legal controversy unlike any other.


It concerned an extradition request for a fugitive couple from Massachusetts, but one that was far from routine. The charge was kidnapping, but the real issue, as Collins came to see it, was whether a child has “the right to be loved.”

Nearly 58 years later, the same question underlies an emotional debate in the Florida Legislature.

Should child placement agencies licensed by or supported by the state be allowed to refuse foster care and adoption services that violate their “written religious moral convictions or policies”?

To put the question another way, should gay applicants be turned away despite a landmark court decision affirming their rights to be parents? That’s what this legislation, CS for HB 7111, would permit.

What about Jews? Atheists? Muslims?

Collins dealt with a strikingly similar issue.

Melvin and Frances Ellis had fled Massachusetts after losing a four-year legal battle to keep the daughter, Hildy, whom they had raised since her birth to an unwed mother.

There was a prenatal adoption agreement. The Ellises, childless, had paid Marjorie McCoy’s medical bills.


The issue is whether religious adoption agencies have a right to enforce their beliefs against others when acting as agents of the state. They do not.


McCoy, a Roman Catholic, changed her mind six weeks later on learning that the Ellises were Jewish. A new Massachusetts law said a child should be adopted, “where practicable,” by parents “of the same religious faith as that of the child.”

The Ellises offered to raise Hildy as Catholic. The Massachusetts Supreme Court was unimpressed. Give her up, it ordered.

The Ellises sold their home and dry cleaning business, left in the dark of night, and arrived eventually at Miami Beach, where Massachusetts tracked them down three weeks after Hildy’s sixth birthday.

There was intense public and media pressure from both sides, most of it favorable to the Ellises. The Catholic and secular press disputed sharply. Collins agonized over his decision and consulted a clergyman friend for spiritual advice.

Collins, who usually left extradition hearings to assistants, held this one himself.

Francis Ellis pleaded through tears to be allowed to keep Hildy. An assistant district attorney from Massachusetts conceded that he was asking for a “severe hardship” but argued that the question was only whether the law would be obeyed, not whether it was fair.

context floridaCollins, a father of four, saw it differently.

“The great and good God of all of us, regardless of faith, granted to every child to be born first the right to be wanted, and second the right to be loved,” he said.

“It was the Ellises in truth and in fact who have been the persons through which God has assured these first two rights as one of His children. It was the Ellises who wanted Hildy to be born. It was they who anxiously awaited her birth with tender emotions of excitement, anticipating fulfillment of the joys and obligations of parenthood. It was the Ellises also who have given of themselves to Hildy, as only parents can understand, thereby fulfilling Hildy’s right to be loved.”

“No crime of kidnapping in a proper sense is involved,” he said.

Collins refused the extradition — a decision that the U.S. Supreme Court would not let him make today.

Soon after, a Florida court formally approved the adoption. The Ellises moved to the Washington suburbs. Hildy eventually found and became friendly with her birth mother.

“If I grew up with any prejudices, it was against the judiciary of Boston and the state of Massachusetts,” she told me in an interview in July 2001. “Not Catholics, not individuals, certainly not my birth mother or anything like that.”

The article on the front page of The New York Times on the Ellis's victory, on May 24, 1957.

The article on the front page of The New York Times on the Ellis’s victory, on May 24, 1957.

Collins’s conclusion should light the way for Florida legislators in the debate over CS for HB 7111 by state Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford. The House passed the bill Thursday with an amendment fatuously claiming that it does not constitute discrimination.

It would expose virtually every adoption or foster care placement to potential religious prejudice. That’s because the state has outsourced all those functions to private agencies.

“There is no pathway that anyone can foster or adopt without enlisting the help of a private agency in the state of Florida,” points out Martin Gill, who won the landmark court decisions overturning Florida’s 1978 anti-gay adoption law.

The choice is not whether church-sponsored agencies, or others, have a right to practice their religion.

Of course they do.

The issue is whether they have a right to enforce their beliefs against others when acting as agents of the state.They do not.

The controversy brings to mind the bigotry Collins encountered in the Ellis case.

“No Christian child should be forced to live with Jewish people,” one Massachusetts man wrote to Collins.

“(I)t would break my heart and I’m sure yours too if one of my little girls or your Darby should have to be brought up a Jew,” wrote a woman from Miami.

Another expressed doubt that “the child’s happiness is more important than the child’s soul.”

Collins, a devout Christian whose mother had hoped he would become a Methodist bishop, came down on the side of a child’s “right to be loved.”

So should the Florida Senate.

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times and author of Floridian of His Century: The Courage of Governor LeRoy Collins. He lives in Western North Carolina.

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12 Responses for “Will Florida Senate Recognize That Every Child Has the Right To Be Loved?”

  1. What's Happening says:

    The difference is stark, not to mention OBVIOUS. But you’ll get haters insisting otherwise:

    “The choice is not whether church-sponsored agencies, or others, have a right to practice their religion…The issue is whether they have a right to enforce their beliefs against others when acting as agents of the state..”

    If you’re acting as an agent for the state, you simply do not–DO NOT–have that right, no matter how much you keep waving your Bible around and screeching to the contrary. If you don’t like going against your own personal belief system to perform a specific set of SECULAR job duties, then you need to find another job. Our government is not based on religion. That you’re an outsourced non-governmental agency doesn’t matter–you’re performing duties on behalf of that government.

    Your right to your religion ends at the end of your nose. No one else has to respect your clearly-hateful God. Those of you who still can’t comprehend this very simple concept really need to find a way to do it pretty soon. There are not enough of you in this country to jihad the rest of us into compliance of your obviously hypocritical doctrine, and I’ve had enough of it.

    • Lin says:

      The hateful one here is you What’s Happening. I also, to use your words, have had enough of the intolerance of opinions different from yours. I do not discriminate and would not advocate it and think the Republicans are wrong here — but religious freedom is a foundation our country was built on. I think secularists need to comprehend the concept that not everyone is like them and get off their high horses.
      We can certainly have the discussion of how to protect everyone’s rights without the screeching about jihad and mocking the religious person’s God. The word jihad for goodness sake, in areas in the world where Christians are being slaughtered in the most awful ways most countries would not tolerate even the suggestion of homosexuality and in some, these people are subject to being killed. How secularists equate the fight here to eliminate some discriminatory practices with jihad and hate is beyond me. This is a war on religion and we don’t need to make war on each other to achieve our goals. Make love not war.

      And don’t tell me I don’t understand, I do.

      • Lin says:

        I can say why I think this way
        What children need more than anything is love
        On paper, I had 2 parents but not really, not at all in fact.
        What I would have given for just one person who put me first.

        The foster care program is so broken — placements, supervision. Adoptions should be carefully done.
        We need people committed to each other and to the child — they should be checked out as much as humanly possible — also single parents with commitment to the welfare of children that need parents. We need to have open minds but protect the kids so much better than we do now.

      • tightlines says:

        Lin, you act like the worst thing conservative Christians have ever done to gay people is decline an adoption or refuse to bake a wedding cake.

        Contrary to your assertion, you clearly don’t understand.

        You don’t understand because you’ve never been one of the roughly 40% of this nation’s homeless youth who landed on the streets after their “good Christian” parents rejected them or kicked them out of the house for being gay or transgender. You don’t understand because you’ve never been beaten up daily in a small town school and had everyone around you, nice, church-going teachers and administrators included, look the other way because they didn’t want to stand up for the “fag.” Or had those “good Christian” teachers and administrators tell you that you brought the beatings on yourself for being a freak. You don’t understand because you’ve never spent your childhood wanting to be a teacher or coach, then realized you probably can’t pursue those professions because the local “good Christian” parents all seem to think gay people are a danger to children. You don’t understand because you’ve never had to hide evidence of your romantic relationships for fear that a “good Christian” employer would either fire you or make your working life hell if they found out you’re gay. Or moved to a new town to take a job only to find that the church-going folks who live there won’t rent you a home because you have a same-sex partner. You’ve never had “good Christian” people tell you your marriage would make a joke of the institution of marriage. You’ve never had to listen to Christian preachers say that your sexual orientation, and the nation’s refusal to use the law to prosecute you for it, is the cause of calamities like Hurricane Katrina. And you’ve never had the “good Christian” people who’ve made you homeless, or fired you, or refused you service and housing and generally treated you like dirt your whole life scream that you’re “intolerant” or “hateful” for rejecting their “different opinion” as to whether you should have the same rights under the law as everyone else.

        Can you not understand why gay people might get ticked off at conservative Christians? Does any of the above sound unfair to you? Then stop calling gay people and our allies “intolerant” or “hateful” for defending our dignity in the face of repeated abuse, and get your own house in order.

        • Lin says:

          tightlines,
          I was commenting in support of gay adoptions and against the Republican position.
          I was speaking for myself and about myself. I happen to be Christian.

          So you are ranting about what the Christians have done wrong to you or other gay people to me — someone who is in your corner on this issue. Why? What I have gone through in my own childhood, I won’t bore the thread with that, what I have learned in my life, I won’t bore the thread with that but if I say I understand, how do you know that isn’t true? You don’t know me.

          We’re in the boxing ring and I’m there tending your wounds and giving you water and you kick me out because I’m Christian, that’s what you are saying?

          You are attacking me when I am on your side. Don’t you want my support? That I am not bigoted doesn’t seem to fit into your template. Only one answer that I can think of — your bigotry against Christians, You don’t get to be bigoted because you are gay, sorry.
          You aren’t defending any dignity when you attack people yourself.. You aren’t helping You are the intolerant one here.

          • Nalla C. says:

            Totally unfair, again. You’re reading what you want to read, not what people are actually saying to you.

            The only side you appear to be on is the side that is intolerant of things they don’t understand. That you want to hide behind your religion to do that is wrong, because not everyone is “religious”. People can be free FROM religion. You don’t have to like that, but you DO have to accommodate it, just like we have to accommodate your religion.

      • Nalla C. says:

        I really don’t think you do–the input from What’s Happening is not about his/her opinion, it is about THE FACT that a person who is working in a non-religious job, with duties that are non-religious, has the obligation to check their religious beliefs at the front door of their office building when performing their assigned job duties.

        Your assigned job duties are not RELIGIOUS in nature. There’s nothing hateful about pointing that out. Again, to borrow from the post you’re responding to, “that you (may be working for) an outsourced non-governmental agency doesn’t matter–you’re performing duties on behalf of that government.”

        Our government is NOT based on RELIGION. Your claim that there’s a “war” on religion in this country has nothing to do with What’s Happening’s comment.

  2. ted bundy says:

    no way, no how should gays be allowed to adopt..PERIOD..

    • a tiny manatee says:

      I see, so what you’re saying is that a child would be better off growing up in foster care or an orphanage where they’ll get nonexistent periodic monitoring by DCF and, according to the statistics, 1/4 will be incarcerated upon leaving the system, more than 20% will become homeless, and under 60% will actually graduate from high school? Now that’s compassionate christianity.

    • Nalla C. says:

      That’s just a terribly wrong and sad assessment, particularly when you simply keep repeating it without providing detail as to why you believe it.

  3. Sheri says:

    I came across this post while researching my own adoption. Hildy’s case was mentioned in my adoption. My situation was the same in Miami 1957 they did everything possible to keep me out of the news with no avail. There was a lot more to my adoption. When the judge said what does a jewish couple want with a Baptist baby. Goes to show you how close minded people were back then and some now. When a baby is born it is raised a religion.

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