Imagine making the life-changing decision to open your home to a foster child, perhaps giving her the first loving, stable home she’s known.
But then imagine the heartbreak you’d feel if you were told by a foster care agency that you weren’t qualified to serve as a foster parent because you were the “wrong” religion. And then imagine the outrage you’d feel when you found out that the federal government gave the foster care agency permission to discriminate against you.
That’s what may happen in South Carolina, according to a report by Sarah Posner in The Nation.
In what would be a drastic departure from long-standing federal policies, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services may authorize taxpayer-funded foster care agencies in South Carolina to use religion as a justification to deny loving homes to children in their care. Religious freedom is a fundamental value, but it does not permit government-funded providers to discriminate against the children and families they are supposed to serve.
Miracle Hill, a Christian child welfare agency in South Carolina that has received millions of dollars from the state and federal government to care for foster children will only place children with parents who share the agency’s Christian beliefs. It even refused to allow a Jewish woman, who had been a foster parent in another state, to serve as a mentor for kids in foster care because she isn’t Christian. The state informed Miracle Hill that HHS regulations prohibited the agency from placing this religious litmus test on its services and that it must stop discriminating in the name of religion if it wanted to continue to accept state and federal dollars.
Rather than stand against the agency’s discriminatory practices, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster wrongly claimed that the nondiscrimination laws violated the religious freedom of the Miracle Hill. He even signed an executive order prohibiting the state from penalizing the agency for its discriminatory practice. McMaster also asked HHS to grant Miracle Hill and all other religiously affiliated agencies in the state a blanket exemption from the rule that prohibits discrimination against the beneficiaries of government services.
McMaster asked for the exemption to the civil rights protections under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA, though, was designed to protect religious freedom, and granting an exemption like this would be a terrible wrong. A child should not be denied a loving, stable home because prospective parents are Humanist, Jewish, Mormon or Catholic. If HHS grants the exemption, it would place the religious beliefs of taxpayer-funded agencies above the best interest of the children in care.
But that would be par for the course in the Trump administration, which has spent the past 500 days carrying out a plan to misuse laws designed to protect religious freedom to instead authorize discrimination in doctor’s offices and hospitals, workplaces, businesses where we shop, and government-funded services we may need. And now states are in on the plan – South Carolina is unlikely to be the only state asking for this kind of exemption.
If you are as outraged over this issue as we are, take a moment to tell your legislators to support the Do No Harm Act. It would prohibit the Trump administration granting this kind of exemption in South Carolina and misusing RFRA in the future. Religious freedom laws should serve as a shield to protect religious freedom, not a sword that allows discrimination and harm to others.