Discrimination in Social Services

Congress Can End Religion-Based Discrimination In Foster Care With Every Child Deserves A Family Act

  Rob Boston

Yesterday Americans United endorsed the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (H.R. 3114), legislation sponsored by U.S. Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Jenniffer González-Colón (R-P.R.) that will ensure taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption programs don’t discriminate on the basis of religion, sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity, and marital status.

There are more than 400,000 children in the child welfare system in the United States. Of these, more than 100,000 children are hoping to find a forever home with a loving family.

Yet less than half of these children will be adopted within one year.

In light of figures like this, taxpayer-funded foster and adoption programs should do all they can to expand the circle of qualified, loving people who can offer homes to these vulnerable children. Unfortunately, in eight states, lawmakers are doing the exact opposite – and the Trump administration could make it worse.

Consider what happened to AU client Aimee Maddonna, a South Carolina woman who wanted to volunteer with a foster care agency named Miracle Hill Ministries in Greenville. Miracle Hill, an evangelical Christian group that receives funding from the state and federal governments, at first was excited about working with Aimee. She has three of her own children, two of whom have special needs, and her family has a history of working with children in foster care.

But officials at Miracle Hill changed their mind about Aimee when they learned that she’s Catholic. The agency won’t work with anyone who fails to share its fundamentalist Protestant religious perspective. Two Jewish women were also turned away by Miracle Hill, as was a lesbian couple.

Normally, this kind of blatant discrimination in a taxpayer-supported agency would not be tolerated, but officials at Miracle Hill lobbied South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster for a waiver permitting them to discriminate. McMaster asked the Trump administration for the waiver, which was duly issued – setting a dangerous nationwide precedent. Taxpayer-funded organizations in Pennsylvania and Texas state officials have asked for similar waivers, and Trump has since dropped hints that the Department of Health and Human Services will soon issue a new rule making this kind of religion-based discrimination permissible nationwide.

Let’s take a minute here to recap what happened: A caring woman wanted to help children in need. She was turned away by a taxpayer-funded agency for no other reason than being the “wrong” religion.

It’s outrageous, and that’s why Americans United is suing on Maddonna’s behalf. We’re glad to see the Every Child Deserves a Family Act introduced in Congress because it’s an important legislative response to this problem.

Trump administration officials and their allies in the Religious Right argue that their discriminatory policies protect “religious freedom.” They don’t. In fact, government-supported discrimination makes a mockery of that principle by converting religious freedom into a weapon that causes harm.

Religion-based discrimination is also counter-productive. As Lewis noted, hundreds of thousands of children need loving homes. Yet under the Trump administration’s policies, many loving people and families who could provide them are eliminated from the get-go because they are LGBTQ, non-religious or members of the “wrong” religion. It doesn’t matter how experienced they are. It does not matter how much love they have in their hearts. It does not matter how much they can help. They are excluded.

Call that what you will, but it sure isn’t “pro-family.” And it certainly isn’t religious freedom.

Please contact your members of Congress today at 202-225-3121 and urge them to support the Every Child Deserves a Family Act so we can protect children, families and true religious freedom.


Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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