Burke v. Walsh

Becket Role:
Case Start Date:
August 8, 2023
Deciding Court:
U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts
Original Court:
U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts
Practice Area(s):

Case Snapshot

Mike and Kitty Burke are a loving couple from Massachusetts who want to welcome children into their family. They applied to become foster parents to care for vulnerable children in need of a loving home like theirs. Unfortunately, the Burkes have been denied the ability to foster vulnerable children by state officials because of their religious beliefs about marriage and sexuality. Massachusetts is in desperate need of more foster homes, but excludes qualified families on the basis of their religious beliefs.


On August 8, 2023, Becket filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts to ensure that families like the Burkes can offer loving homes to children in need amid the state’s foster care crisis.

Case Summary

Religious couple opens their hearts to children in need

Mike and Kitty Burke are a Catholic couple from Massachusetts who have long wanted to become parents. Mike is an Iraq war veteran, Kitty is a former paraprofessional for special needs children, and together they run a small business and perform music for Mass. Unfortunately, the Burkes learned early on in their marriage that they would not be able to have children of their own. Mike and Kitty began exploring becoming foster parents through the state’s foster care program with the hope of caring for and eventually adopting children in need of a stable, loving home like theirs.

Children in foster care throughout Massachusetts are waiting for their forever family like the Burkes. The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) currently does not have enough foster homes or facilities to meet the needs of the children in its care, leaving over 1,500 children without a family. The crisis has become so extreme that the state has resorted to housing children in hospitals for weeks on end—not because the children need medical attention, but because the Commonwealth has nowhere else to put them. Now more than ever, Massachusetts needs loving couples like the Burkes to foster children in need.

Massachusetts cuts foster kids off from loving, faithful homes

When Mike and Kitty applied to become foster parents in 2022, they underwent hours of training, which they completed successfully. Their instructor reported their positive contributions in the class to DCF, noting that the couple helped to enrich the training program for other parents. The Burkes also underwent extensive interviews and a home study. Throughout this process, Mike and Kitty emphasized their willingness to foster children from diverse backgrounds and with special needs. They expressed their openness to fostering sibling groups, as well, so that children in need could maintain those critical family ties. In all respects, the Burkes were an ideal foster family.

During their home interviews, however, the Burkes were troubled that much of the questions centered on their Catholic views on sexual orientation, marriage, and gender dysphoria. In response to these questions, the Burkes emphasized that they would love and accept any child, no matter the child’s future sexual orientation or struggles with gender identity. However, because Mike and Kitty said they would continue to hold to their religious beliefs about gender and human sexuality, Massachusetts denied them a license to foster any child because, as the reviewer put it, “their faith is not supportive and neither are they.”

The law protects religious families and the children they seek to serve

This sad conflict was entirely avoidable. Massachusetts wants to maximize foster families and rightly protect potential foster parents from religious discrimination. Instead, Massachusetts turned its policies into a ban on certain religious beliefs. This is as unconstitutional as it is unnecessary.

Massachusetts has put vulnerable children into hospital rooms and office spaces because it lacks enough loving foster families. Hundreds of children in the state’s foster care system need homes, and religious parents like Mike and Kitty Burke are ready to open their hearts and homes. Massachusetts cannot exclude religious couples like the Burkes from fostering because they are religious, nor can they punish qualified families for their deeply held religious beliefs. If this can happen to the Burkes, it can happen to loving, qualified foster families of diverse faiths across Massachusetts.

Federal law protects the ability of religious people and organizations to foster children in need without having to forfeit their beliefs. Because Massachusetts was unwilling to uphold law including in its own Foster Parent Bill of Rights—Becket is going to court to enforce them.

Importance to Religious Liberty:  

Individual freedom: The government discriminates against religious groups if it prevents them from providing services simply based on their religious beliefs.