(RNS) The Baby Veronica case, named for the girl at the center of a contentious child custody dispute, has stirred powerful emotional responses from many groups, including some Christian evangelicals.

Veronica with her dad, Dusten Brown

Veronica with her dad, Dusten Brown Photo courtesy Keep Veronica Home website

Motivated by their faith in God and a distrust of federal Indian policies, a few evangelical organizations are campaigning to abolish the federal Indian Child Welfare Act at the heart of the dispute.

Congress enacted the law in 1978 to address the abuses that separated Indian children from their families through adoption or foster care. The law gives related tribes a preference in custody proceedings involving Indian children.

Evangelicals, who have recently seized on adoption of orphaned children as a moral imperative, want fewer barriers to providing Native American children homes and see the federal law as an obstacle.

In the Baby Veronica case, an Oklahoma Cherokee father is fighting to retain custody of his daughter who will turn 4 on Sunday (Sept. 15), while a white adoptive couple in South Carolina who raised the girl from birth to age 2, wants her back.

In a 5-4 decision this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal law did not apply to the father and sent the case back to South Carolina for consideration.

The Cherokee Nation is fighting to claim jurisdiction under the same law and believes that Veronica’s case is an attack against the law and tribal sovereignty.

Elizabeth Sharon Morris of Hillsboro, N.D., believes the child should stay with her adoptive family.

A former registered nurse and mother to five children who adopted one and reared seven more, Morris runs a nonprofit organization of about 400 members that advocates for abolishing the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Morris said she was motivated to get involved after watching her late husband, Roland John Morris, Sr., a member of the Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa, battle alcoholism while his family succumbed to suicide, drug addiction, and crime.

When she saw a South Dakota tribe force a 5-year-old Native American girl to leave the stable home of her white adoptive parents, she feared the girl would return to a similar environment on the reservation.

“I just felt sick to my stomach at the thought,” Morris said.

Photo of Veronica with Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare

Photo of Veronica with Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare courtesy their website

In 2004, she and her husband founded the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare.

The alliance submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the act should not apply to the Baby Veronica case.

Morris and others base their argument on a familiar refrain that resonates with the Tea Party movement: limited government.

The alliance’s events regularly appear on TeaPartyCommunity.com, an online social media group.

Johnston Moore also wants to see the law repealed, or at least amended.  He fought a three-year court battle and spent $30,000 on legal fees to win custody of two Native American boys. Today, he is executive director and co-founder of Home Forever, a Long Beach, Calif.-based organization that advocates a biblical mandate for adoption and foster care.

“ICWA unfairly allows our child welfare and judicial systems to treat children differently if they happen to be eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe,” Moore said.

He believes Veronica was “traumatically ripped” from her adoptive parents because she has “a few drops of Cherokee blood running through her veins.”

But opponents question why these groups now want to sever the bond between Veronica and her biological father, who’s had custody of the child for 19 months. They point out that evangelicals are now using the powers of the state to wrest children from Native American families.

Eli S. McCarthy, a Roman Catholic, supports the federal law and said Christians should work to repair the harm done by strained relations with the Indian communities.

“The federal government, as a collection of human beings working for society, has the capacity to promote the common good as in the case of ICWA,” said McCarthy, director of justice and peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, an organization of 17,000 religious order priests and brothers.  The conference joined four other Christian organizations in a U.S. Supreme Court amicus brief supporting the federal act.

Some evangelicals are reluctant to interfere with Native American sovereignty. Morris said her own church told her not to “rock the boat,” and when she sought support from Focus on the Family, the Colorado-based evangelical organization, no one responded. A representative said the organization has no position on the child welfare act and would not elaborate.

The Southern Baptist Convention, which has called on its nearly 16 million members to do more to care for orphans and foster children, has not issued a statement on Native American adoptions.

russell moore

Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. RNS photo courtesy Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“Right now, we’re concerned with the larger picture of orphan care and not one particular group,” said Russell D. Moore, president of the convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Andrea Smith, a Cherokee scholar, said some evangelicals have long been organizing against the act. “Such groups have no relationship at all with Native communities,” she said.

Smith suggests a better way forward would be for these groups to partner with Native American evangelical organizations.

“Probably the best way to develop alliances would be to mirror the organizing that Latino evangelicals did with Christian right groups around immigration reform,” Smith said.  “They just began with partnering with white evangelical churches to expose them to what immigrant families were going through and were gradually able to get most Christian right groups to reverse their positions.”


Video courtesy CBS – This video aired on August 12, 2013.


  1. Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare, who is this religious group? In the name of religion, they seem to an outstanding sense of moral values and concerns for the welfare of Native American children and the evironment they live in.

    Who is Elizabeth and Roland Morris? With a little computer research, you’ll find they were actively involved with anti-treaty rights groups that supported racial hatred, violence directed at Native Americans (including pregnant Native American women) and attempting to diminish or destroy tribal sovereignty.

    Morris’ intention is not for the welfare of Baby Veronica but for the furtherance of the direction of these anti-treaty rights groups. There’s more people out there thats using religion as a cover for racial hatred and violence.

    • “Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare” – Sounds so benevolent, doesn’t it? Sort of like “Friends of the Indian.” You may remember them as the group that campaigned for allotment and boarding schools. With ‘friends’ like that, you don’t need any enemies.

  2. This endless parade of horror stories surrounding adopted children who were returned to their parents and suffered dire consequences is growing tiresome. Just because this happens to one child or even a dozen does not mean it will happen in this case. These horror stories are nothing more than a tug on the emotions with “what it” statements and a need to “save Veronica Rose.” But from all that I have gleaned on this case so far, there is nothing to “save” Veronica from, and yet… here it goes, a lineup of “This might happen because it did to a different child in North Dakota.” Veronica is happy, healthy, THRIVING where she is with her natural father. So what do people feel she needs to be “saved” from? Possibilities? Nothing is certain. And no one knows what might happen in the future – but this same thought applies to the Capabiancos who want so desperately to hold onto her. Either one or both of them might suffer a breakdown, or become catastrophically ill, or might find their home stricken by a hurricane. Nothing is certain in life’s future. But for now Veronica is not in danger, not in need of being “saved.” She IS safe in the arms of her natural family. ,I am a white Christian, and I believe in adoption. But I believe that adoption should be about caring for children who need it. Adoption should be about the child needing the parents and NOT about the parents needing the child. I’m sorry that the Capabiancos fell in love with this child… but she was never theirs to raise. If this battle was truly about their love for the child, then knowing she is safe and loved should be enough. I wish them well but I truly believe they should have moved on when the father showed he wanted to raise his daughter. In fact, I would respectfully suggest that hindsight proves they should have been forthright and up front with him in the beginning and secured his agreement before they even left the state with the child, maybe even before they attended her birth.

  3. William Silverman

    It would of been nice to see the Cherokee Nation fight so hard to keep it 2,800 Freeman Citizens ,yes also Cherokee citizens the Cherokee nation voted to kick out…if citizenship matters so much with the CN but it doesn’t…oh now it does in this case but didn’t with the 2,800 Cherokee freeman who also have some small Cherokee ancestry whether the CN likes it or not….and they too were citizens of the Cherokee nation in Oklahoma. where was the UN on that ?? it seems the Browns are using privilege with slick lawyers to once again defeat

    Traditional Cherokee society gives the birth mother all the rights by the way too……
    the culture gives the mother the choice and the mother here chose the Capobiancos…

    The Cherokee clans (ᏣᎳᎩ ᏓᏂᎳᏍᏓᏢᎢ) are traditional social organizations of Cherokee society.

    They are hereditary and matrilineal: children are considered to belong to the mother’s clan…so by Cherokee rule the capobiancos are right.

    The Cherokee society was historically a matrilineal society; meaning children belong to the mother’s clan, and hereditary leadership and property were passed through the maternal line.
    Traditionally, women were considered the head of household among the Cherokee, with the home and children belonging to her should she separate from a husband, and maternal uncles were considered more important than fathers. Property was inherited and bequeathed through the clan and held in common by it.
    In addition, Cherokee society tended to be matrilocal. meaning send her to her mothers choice in south Carolina the traditional home of the Cherokee any way

  4. From all accounts of the Baby Veronica and Baby Desaray cases, those adults with vested interests, including the birth mothers, adoptive parents, the adoption agency and the attorney for the adoption agency, should be thoroughly investigated to ensure that the civil rights of these babies and their biological fathers have not been violated. This investigation should move beyond the press an social media, but to legal civil rights violations. The similarities of these two cases, given the fact that so many of the adult players, excluding the biological parents, are the same, deserve nothing less.

    Any sympathy for these adoptive parents continues to diminish as it becomes increasing clear that something very sinister is going on and the birth mothers may be part of it. Which, if true, is the saddest of all the elements surrounding these adoptions.

    The reported stories around the relationships between both of the birth fathers and mothers, suggest that the birth mothers are giving birth to these children with the express intent of giving them up for adoption, and maybe even being compensated to do so. The possibility exist that the intent was always to use the fathers as sperm donors, which is surely cheaper than In Vitro fertilization.

    My prayers will continue to be for the loving biological parents and family members to retain custody of their babies. They created them, the babies are theirs, they have done nothing to deem them unfit, therefore, they should retain the right t raise them in their own culture.

  5. lets see; I come onto your land and tell you that you need to part with your children on my Gods terms. You should just accept what I have to say as law. Forget the inner city children and gangs surrounding them. I want an injun because I “can” get some casino money for taking care of them; I think that people have that illusion that money follows these adoptions. If these religious beings are concern about the welfare of these kids: in the 1st place, why cant they adopt AND live within the boundries of that tribe’s lands. Did not Christ say to live among the less fortanuate and support them: Mother Theresa did…

  6. Affected ICWA Party

    As a 4/4 Lakota who grew up in dire familial fragmentation, I see ‘Baby Veronica’ parties as anti-Native policy. They’ll tug at well-meaning heart strings to ‘gather their storm’ of anti-tribal sentiment but it was THEIR forefathers who set up treaty(s) with displaced tribes which LEGISLATED tribal sovereignty & subsequently
    ICWA! In Lakota country ‘Christian ministers’ hauled off dozens of 4/4 Lakota kids
    either directly or ‘arranging adoptions.’ This is nothing less than human trafficking
    OK politicos must protect their citizens [we know fallin is pandering for a larger Rep. role per the undue solicitude she grants SC! Why isn't adoptive mother Melanie Capobianco's 2 DUIs [MI & NY] reported-be real, they paid for a product now they intend to ‘get their money’s worth!’ On this ‘day of covering’ families must be given the Nth degree to stay together-Father Veronica is doing that!

  7. At first I thought Angela ALeiss article was too sympathetic toward Elizabeth Sharon Morris and CAICW. Then I saw Morris’ response on her CAICW site.
    She complained because Aleiss didn’t give her more space devoted to the founding and ideals of CAIWA. But Aleiss’ article was about Christians and their response to ICWA of which CAIWA is only one small response out of a huge evangelical population.

    Aleiss could have talked about how Morris’ husband Roland Morris was a founding member and vice-chairman of the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA), who says that “federal Indian Policy is unaccountable, destructive, racist and unconstitutional. ”

    And Elizabeth says that ICWA gives racial preference to Indian children then goes on to say:

    “My children have the option of enjoying Ojibwe traditional, German Jewish, Irish Catholic, and Scottish Protestant heritage. We told them as they were growing up that each one of their heritages are interesting and valuable. (While at the same time making it clear that Jesus is the only way, truth and life.)”

    Uh, if Jesus is the only way, than isn’t that a preference for the white Anglo way? It’s disheartening that one of the Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas agrees that ICWA is unconstitutional and should be abolished. But then again, his wife Virginia Thomas created the Tea Party affiliated group, Liberty Central Inc. These groups lost big ground with the defeat of DOMA. Now they’ve moved on to the next venue, American Indians.

  8. Affected ICWA Party

    The mainstream now condones ‘puppy mill’ type operation. BV’s mom, the non-custodial parent to other children, gets recruited somewhere/somehow by SC atty who represents barren wealthy SCians to abscond with an OKian absent proper federal docs and for her role she is handsomely-rewarded This adoptive couple is not believable-if you’ve ever watched the Mrs-a mental health professional-she is mad [at not getting her way-AA calls it 'egomania' or the '-ism' [I, self & me!]. Her DUIs speak volumes about ego-born recklessness which can endanger not only the drinker but simple passer-bys or captive audiences-like children in their company [does anyone really wonder why the Capos oppose a 'best interests hearing?]… fair/competent court would compel the Mrs. to demonstrate rehab past the DUIs-don’t we all know that children can be demanding/stupefying/trying/loving/time-consuming/awe-inspiring, etc.?SCOTUS case was farcical-Roberts & Thomas needed recuse themselves since they obviously believe in adoption being adoptive parents themselves…no, OK must really take a long look at what fallin is trying to do to press political agenda. SC’s halley was so sure that she’d get her way, SC sends their own ‘deputy dawgs’ to ‘be of assistance..’ Some in SC were outraged that 3 well-paid law enforcement officers sat around in OK for many days-they had no official duty(s) {except to mean mug Mr. Brown!}…Because one is poor is not neglect per se-how any have left abject poverty behind because they were ‘trained up right’ as impoverished youth & didn’t depart? Don’t we hear of the whimsical lives of the children of privilege who impulsively chased impulse after impulse only to give up the chase & just spend the $ to get it [that's what this seems like-$$ talks!] If one truly believes in the Hebrew Messiah, they must hate evil & can’t call evil good and good evil-a father taking care of his progeny is the best gospel, right? The mishpaha must reject child trafficking by any name especially in the Name Above All Names!

  9. I would have sided with the adoptive couple except for reading who’s behind this.

    The article did not mention that Johnston Moore of Home Forever is another evangelical and along with Elizabeth Sharon Morris a founder of the Coalition for the Protection of Indian Children and Families. The CPICF was started in 2012 to campaign for greater access of Indian children through white adoptions. Another founding member is one of the adoptive parents, Melanie Duncan Capobianco. CPICF actually has the audacity to actually use a quote from the great Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph to support their anti-Indian cause.

    This group also includes Troy “the Locator” Dunn who appeared with Johnston Moore on Dr. Phil in 2012 bashing ICWA. Little did Dr Phil know he was manipulated by these Christian Right groups. I hear Troy has booked more appearances on radio and Dr Phil to continue this right-wing campaign. Jessica Munday of Trio Solutions in SC is also a member of CPICF and friend of Melanie Duncan. She and her crew have been actively campaigning against the bio father and ICWA.

    About CERA…. They go after Indian groups in upstate NY to wrestle away tribal lands as well. I read that they like to roam the halls of Republican senators looking for supporters. I hear that CERA is “avoided like the plague” in Washington DC.

  10. The Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare seem to consist of the same type of people who many years ago decried, Save the child, kill the Indian as justification of the creation of the discusting Indian Boarding Schools. In their zeal to destroy the Indian Child Welfare Act, their true nature as a prejudged hateful and anti-Indian group is coming to light.

  11. Affected ICWA Party

    OK acted sleazy to allow SC to push them around…money talks. This matter is putrid & anyone who thinks the birth father is wrong is just being racist. The remarks in SC are anti-capobianco. This is child trafficking plain & simple. No best interest hearing because Melanie’s wilful acting out [DUIs] would be propounded as they need to be…USDOJ must show some integrity & investigate godwin’s underground human trafficking which secrets away ‘the least among us..’ I can hope the paternal grandparents’ sue for adoption. To reiterate, their forefathers ratified treaty(s) with displaced tribes as a ‘false oath’ & later enacted laws like ICWA-tribes are so marginalized they never had the political clout to press ICWA , etc. Hopefully the plot thickens for BV’s dad’s favor! I hope it gets back to SCOTUS & Roberts & Thomas are pre-emptively disqualified as adoptive parents!

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