The issue presented for determination is whether adopting parents who do not believe in the existence of a Supreme Being should be permitted to adopt a child 11 month of age.
Plaintiffs, husband and wife, in 1965 applied to the Bureau of Children's Services of the New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies seeking to adopt a child. They informed the Bureau that they had no religious affiliation and were not members of any organized church.
Because of plaintiffs' lack of religious affiliation, the Bureau would not consider them as eligible adoptive parents -- the Bureau relying in part on its Children's Manual , volume 2, 5245-31, entitled "Religious."
At that time the Bureau required each applicant for adoption to designate their religious affiliation and made it mandatory that a religious reference be obtained from a religious leader of the sect to which they belonged.
In February 1966 plaintiffs instituted proceedings in the Appellate Division alleging that this requirement was illegal and in violation of the New Jersey and Federal Constitutions. By stipulation entered October 4, 1966 the suit was dismissed. Thereafter, the regulations of the Bureau of Children's Services were changed. The pertinent part now provides as follows:
5.23 -- Religion of applicants
Opportunity for religious or spiritual and ethical development of the child should receive full consideration in the selection of adoptive homes. Lack of religious affiliation or of a religious faith, however, should not be a bar to consideration of any applicants for adoption. (2.6, 4.7).
Agencies under religious auspices are free to stipulate requirements consistent with their faith and practice, and that of their clients.
When prospective adoptive parents are identified with a religious faith group, a clergyman of their religious faith may be consulted in order to secure his evaluation of the religious factors.
Couples in which the husband and wife have different religious faiths should not be denied consideration for adoptive placement on this account alone. It is necessary to evaluate in each case what their religious faiths and particularly the difference in religious faith means to them, and how this difference may affect the rearing and development of a child. [Emphasis added]
On July 11, 1967 plaintiffs obtained a male child D, then one month old, from the Children's Aid and Adoption Society of New Jersey. The report of the Society to the court stated that plaintiffs were not religiously affiliated. However, the Society ...