Discrimination in Social Services

AU Leads Allies In Condemning Trump Administration’s Foster Care Policy That Harms Children, Parents And Religious Freedom

  Liz Hayes

Americans United today led a broad coalition of more than 100 national organizations in denouncing the Trump administration’s recent decision to allow taxpayer-funded foster care agencies in South Carolina to reject any parents or volunteers they deem to be the “wrong” religion.

Through the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD), the organizations wrote to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to protest the Jan. 23 decision to sanction taxpayer-funded discrimination in the foster care system. The organizations described how the policy harms children, parents and religious freedom.

“Religious freedom, which is a core American value, requires that those who perform government services must serve everyone, regardless of religion,” the CARD organizations wrote. “Ensuring that taxpayer-funded child placement agencies abide by nondiscrimination laws is not hostile to religion – turning away people seeking to engage in government-funded services because they fail a religious test is.”

An array of religious and nonreligious, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, reproductive freedom, racial justice, education and other organizations joined AU in the letter, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Defamation League, American Federation of Teachers, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Child Welfare League of America, the Episcopal Church, Human Rights Campaign, Muslim Advocates, NAACP, National Center on Adoption and Permanency, National Council of Churches, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Secular Coalition for America, Sikh Council on Religion and Education, Southern Poverty Law Center and the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society.

Nearly 100 members of Congress also voiced their objections yesterday in a letter to Azar, calling the policy “an egregious violation of the very principles our nation and our child welfare system were founded upon.” U.S. Reps. Angie Craig (D-Minn.), Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Katie Hill (D-Calif.) spearheaded the effort; Craig and Maloney both shared personal stories on Twitter to highlight how the policy will make it even more difficult for members of the LGBTQ community to provide loving homes for children in need.

“As a mother who faced adoption challenges decades ago, I can’t allow Sec. Azar to turn away prospective parents on the basis of an agency’s religious litmus test,” tweeted Craig, who is a lesbian.

“As a gay guy, I had to fight tooth & nail to adopt my kids,” tweeted Maloney. “Best thing I’ve ever done – and I know how much it means to them to have a loving home. …religious discrimination in foster care/adoption is wrong. Our goal should be finding loving parents for kids who need them – that’s all that matters.”

The Trump administration’s policy was issued in direct response to a request from South Carolina Republican Gov. Henry McMaster for a waiver to allow a taxpayer-funded foster care agency, Miracle Hill Ministries, to explicitly reject parents and volunteers who do not share Miracle Hill’s evangelical Protestant beliefs. Several people have come forward to describe how they were denied the opportunity to help children in Miracle Hill’s care because they were Jewish, Catholic or of another faith.

While the waiver only applies to South Carolina for now, it sets a dangerous precedent and could be adopted nationwide.  Texas also has written to HSS objecting to the nondiscrimination protections, and several states have passed laws sanctioning similar discrimination. There are already nearly a half-million children in foster care nationwide, including 123,000 kids waiting for adoption; this policy could put a significant strain on the foster care system and leave even more kids without homes.

Because Trump and his Religious Right allies continue to weaponize religious freedom, Americans United is urging Congress to pass the Do No Harm Act (DNHA). The act would restore our fundamental principle of religious freedom to its original intent – acting as a shield that protects religious expression while clarifying that it may not be used as a sword to harm others.

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