Discrimination in Social Services

President Trump Uses National Prayer Breakfast To Condone Foster Care Agencies Using Religion To Discriminate

  Liz Hayes

President Donald Trump gave a rather perfunctory speech during the National Prayer Breakfast this morning, basically paring down Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

There was one unwelcome addition: Trump touted his administration’s move last month to sanction taxpayer-funded discrimination by allowing South Carolina foster care agencies to reject prospective parents or volunteers they deem to be the “wrong” religion.

“My administration is working to ensure that faith-based adoption agencies are able to help vulnerable children find their forever homes while following their deeply held beliefs,” Trump said at the breakfast – ignoring that if publicly funded foster care agencies are allowed to turn away qualified parents because of their religion, it will take even longer for children in the system to find loving, stable homes.

Unbelievably, in the very next breath, Trump spoke of his administration’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism – even though the South Carolina foster care agency that triggered his administration’s new policy was discriminating against Jewish parents and volunteers.

Miracle Hill Ministries, a large agency in South Carolina that contracts with the state to provide foster care and other social services, has a policy of turning away prospective parents and volunteers who don’t have the same evangelical Christian beliefs – meaning they reject Jews, Catholics, nonbelievers and other religious minorities.

Just this week, Lydia Currie wrote about how Miracle Hill wouldn’t let her family foster children because Lydia is Jewish. “I think often about the other older children who were waiting for families, the ones in Miracle Hill institutions whom we could have loved if we had not been rejected because of our faith,” Lydia wrote. “I wonder what happened to them – and whether they are still waiting.”

Lydia is not alone; other people, including Beth Lesser, also a Jewish woman, have come forward to explain how Miracle Hill wouldn’t let them volunteer or foster children in need because of their religious beliefs.

Rather than stopping Miracle Hill from discriminating with taxpayer dollars and denying children the chance for a loving and stable home with qualified parents, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) asked the Trump administration to give Miracle Hill and other South Carolina foster care providers a religious exemption so they can discriminate against prospective parents without risk of losing federal funding. Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services granted that waiver on Jan. 23.

While the waiver only applies to South Carolina for now, it sets a dangerous nationwide precedent of elevating the beliefs of a government-funded agency over the best interests of the children in their care. Texas also has requested a waiver from HSS, and several states have passed laws sanctioning similar discrimination.

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.

(PHOTO: President Donald Trump at the 2019 National Prayer Breakfast. CREDIT: Screenshot from C-SPAN.)

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