Maddonna v. Department of Health and Human Services

Last modified 2022.11.21

  • Status Ongoing
  • Type Counsel
  • Court U.S. District Court
  • Issues Discrimination in Name of Religion, Discrimination in Social Services, Foster Care Discrimination, LGBTQ Rights, Religious and Racial Equality, Taxpayer Funding of Religion, Why People of Faith Support Church-State Separation

Case Documents

Aimee Maddonna, a mother of three, was seeking opportunities for her family to help children in foster care. Miracle Hill Ministries, the largest taxpayer-funded foster care agency in South Carolina, told Aimee her family was a great fit to volunteer with children. But then the agency asked what church the Maddonnas attended. When Aimee offered the name of her Catholic parish, Miracle Hill abruptly rejected her because she’s the “wrong” religion—the agency will only work with evangelical Protestants, not Catholics, Jews, or people of any other faith.

Instead of denouncing this discrimination, the administrations of President Donald Trump and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster doubled down, sanctioning the government-funded religious discrimination. In January 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a blanket waiver allowing all government-funded foster care agencies in South Carolina to explicitly reject parents and volunteers who don’t share their religious beliefs without being penalized by the federal government; McMaster issued a similar order in March 2018.

In 2019, representing Aimee, we filed suit in the United States District Court of South Carolina to stop the federal government and South Carolina from authorizing and encouraging religious discrimination with taxpayer dollars. At its heart, the case is about two of our country’s most sacred principles: defending religious freedom for all and protecting vulnerable children. It is unconstitutional to permit taxpayer-funded agencies to discriminate against prospective foster parents and volunteers based on their religion. And no child should be denied an opportunity for a loving, stable home when one is available to them.

While the Biden Administration has now rescinded the Trump Administration’s blanket waiver, its action has not resolved the constitutional violations because HHS still refuses to penalize foster care agencies that use federal taxpayer funds to discriminate. And the South Carolina state policy is still in effect as well. On November 21, 2022, after completing discovery, the parties filed motions for summary judgment.


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Abortion bans violate the separation of church and state. Americans United and the National Women’s Law Center—the leading experts in religious freedom and gender justice—have joined forces with thirteen clergy from six faith traditions to challenge Missouri’s abortion bans as unconstitutionally imposing one narrow religious doctrine on everyone.

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