Discrimination in Social Services

AU’s Top 10 Of 2019 – No. 1: Challenging Trump’s Foster Care Discrimination In Court

  Liz Hayes

Editor’s Note: The constitutional principle of religious freedom has been undermined like never before under the Trump administration. This year we have seen unprecedented attacks on reproductive freedom and LGBTQ equality, and an erosion of church-state separation that threatens religious minorities and the nonreligious in America.

As the new year approaches, we’re taking a look back at the Top 10 church-state separation issues of 2019 – and how AU has led the charge against these blatant violations of our Constitution.

One of the Trump administration’s most unconscionable policies this year (and there have been many to choose from) was to allow taxpayer-funded foster care agencies to prioritize their religious beliefs above the best interests of vulnerable children by turning away parents and volunteers who are the “wrong” religion.

That’s what happened to Americans United client Aimee Maddonna. The South Carolina mother of three wanted to continue her family legacy of helping children in foster care. She reached out to Miracle Hill Ministries, a large taxpayer-funded foster care agency in her state, and initially was told her family was a perfect fit to help children in need.

No. 1: Challenging Trump's Foster Care Discrimination Rule In Court

That all changed when Miracle Hill officials asked what church Aimee attended and she named her Catholic parish. The agency then rejected her because it only works with evangelical Protestants. You can hear more about Aimee’s story in this video:

Rather than stopping this blatant religious discrimination that denies children loving families, the Trump administration in January joined the South Carolina governor in doubling down on taxpayer-funded religious discrimination and told all foster care agencies in the state they could turn away parents who are LGBTQ or the “wrong” religion.

That’s when AU stepped in and filed a federal lawsuit on Aimee’s behalf in February. The suit was filed against the state and federal governments because it is unconstitutional for the government to favor certain religious beliefs – especially in ways that harm others.

But that hasn’t stopped the Trump administration. In November, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new rule that would strip critical protections against discrimination on the basis of religion, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity from countless HHS programs, including those that fund foster care and adoption agencies. The rule, which has not yet gone into effect, would go far beyond the exemption HHS granted to South Carolina foster care agencies.

This week, AU organized more than 300 faith leaders nationwide to speak out against policies that corrupt the fundamental principle of religious freedom to justify discrimination. “As a Christian pastor and an adoptive mother, I hope that every child has the chance to be raised by loving parents,” said the Rev. Amanda Henderson, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and one of the faith leaders to sign the statement. “At a time when there are so many children in need, it is a tragedy to keep kids from the opportunity to have a loving home, regardless of the religion, gender or sexuality of the parents. Religion should call us to love and care for one another, and should not be used to limit available homes for kids in need.”

AU also supported the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, legislation introduced in June by U.S. Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Jenniffer González-Colón (R-P.R.). The act 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.

In the new year, Americans United will continue to protect our country’s fundamental principle of religious freedom – the right to practice your religion, or no religion at all, as long as you don’t harm others. Especially vulnerable children. Join us!

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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