Aimee Maddonna, a South Carolina mother of three, knows firsthand the impact a loving family can have on foster children.
Aimee was raised alongside both biological and foster siblings because her father – who grew up in the system at a time when foster parents weren’t well-vetted – opened their home to hundreds of the most vulnerable foster kids. Aimee’s parents weren’t wealthy, but they made sure each child was welcomed and had happy memories.
Aimee’s father instilled in her the desire to help children in need, so Aimee and her family began looking for opportunities to volunteer with a foster care agency near their home.
Miracle Hill Ministries, the largest taxpayer-funded foster care agency in the state, stood out because of their prominent advertising. Plus, the agency allows children as well as adults to volunteer. Because Aimee’s own children have special needs, she wanted the whole family to volunteer to make sure they had a good connection before taking the next step of fostering.
Miracle Hill told Aimee her family was a great fit to help these children. Then the agency asked what church the Maddonnas attended. After learning they are Catholic, Miracle Hill turned the family away, saying they will only work with evangelical Protestants – not Catholics, Jews or people of any other faith.
“I’ve never considered myself a religious minority until that moment,” Aimee told The Associated Press today. “I had to tell my kids that, because we’re Catholic, we can’t take these kids out for ice cream and cheer them on at their games. I was devastated.”
Instead of denouncing this discrimination, the Trump administration and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster doubled down, sanctioning the government-funded religious discrimination. Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a policy allowing all government-funded foster care agencies in South Carolina to explicitly reject parents and volunteers who don’t share their religious beliefs; McMaster issued a similar order last year.
While this policy only applies to South Carolina for now, it sets a dangerous nationwide precedent that could have a significant and lasting impact on our most vulnerable children. There are nearly 5,000 children in foster care in South Carolina, and nearly a half-million kids in care nationwide. By allowing agencies to turn away qualified parents, these kids will spend even longer in an already overburdened system instead of being welcomed into loving, stable homes.
Americans United won’t allow the narrow religious beliefs of a government-funded agency to override the best interest of America’s most vulnerable children or our fundamental principle of religious freedom.
That’s why we filed a federal lawsuit today on Aimee’s behalf – to stop the federal government and South Carolina from authorizing and encouraging religious discrimination with taxpayer dollars. Because no child should be denied an opportunity for a loving and stable home when one is available to them, and no one should face religious discrimination from a publicly funded agency.
“At its heart, this case is about two of our country’s most sacred principles: defending religious freedom for all and protecting vulnerable children,” said Rachel Laser, AU’s president and CEO. “It is unconscionable – and unconstitutional – that an amazing mother like Aimee Maddonna and her loving family are barred from helping children in need because they are the ‘wrong’ religion. We will not allow this country to return to the days of ‘no Catholics or Jews allowed.’”
For Aimee and her family, while they were devastated by the discrimination, she’s most concerned for the kids they aren’t able to help.
“It was demoralizing to hear we are not good enough because we aren’t the right kind of Christians,” Aimee said. “It was difficult for my family, of course, but at the end of the day my kids still have parents. These foster children need and deserve to have someone looking out for them – and the government is taking that away. That isn’t right, it isn’t fair and it isn’t necessary.”