June 2020 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A lesbian couple who was turned away from a taxpayer-funded foster-care agency in South Carolina will have their day in court.

In April 2019, Eden Rogers and Brandy Welch, who are married, submitted an online application to Miracle Hill Ministries, expressing a desire to be foster parents. On the form, they identified themselves as a same-sex couple and noted that they are members of a Unitarian Universalist church.

Miracle Hill, which is based in Green­ville, is the state’s largest foster care agency and works on behalf of the government – yet it refuses to work with clients that do not meet its narrow religious criteria. State officials in South Carolina sought and received a special waiver from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) allowing the agency to discriminate.

Miracle Hill rejected the application from Rogers and Welch on May 1, 2019. In an email, an agency official said that Miracle Hill has “a religious obligation to partner with foster parents who share our beliefs and who are active in a Christian church.” The official added that Miracle Hill “would not be a good fit to assist you in your quest … to become foster parents.”

Backed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of South Carolina and South Carolina Equality, Eden and Brandy sued state and federal officials, arguing that allowing Miracle Hill to receive taxpayer money while it screens applications on religious criteria violates the U.S. Constitution.

Officials at HHS tried to have the Rogers v. United States Department of Health and Human Services case dismissed, but on May 8 a federal court ruled that the legal challenge can go forward.

“This is great news, and we look forward to Eden’s and Brandy’s day in court,” said Currey Cook, counsel and director of the Youth In Out-Of-Home Care Project at Lambda Legal. “No child in foster care who can’t safely be with their family should be denied the opportunity of a loving and nurturing foster home simply because the prospective parents don’t meet a taxpayer-funded agency’s religious litmus test. Eden’s and Brandy’s faith and sexual orientation have no bearing on their suitability to provide a home for children in need.”

Americans United is sponsoring a similar case against state and federal officials for allowing Miracle Hill to discriminate with taxpayer funds. AU’s client, Aimee Maddonna, is a Roman Catholic who was turned away by the agency because she declined to sign a statement of faith that reflected evangelical Protestantism.