November 2023 Church & State Magazine - November 2023

Federal court allows religious discrimination in S.C. foster care case


A federal court ruled on Sept. 29 that a taxpayer-funded evangelical foster-care agency in South Carolina was within its rights by refusing to work with a Roman Catholic woman. 

The woman, Aimee Maddonna, a mother of three, was represented in court by Americans United. Maddonna sought opportunities for her family to help children in foster care and approached Miracle Hill Ministries, the largest taxpayer-funded foster care agency in South Carolina.

Miracle Hill originally 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, saying the agency will work with evangelical Protestants only, not Catholics, Jews or people of any other faith.

Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser denounced the ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

“Foster care agencies working on behalf of the government should not be allowed to discriminate against prospective foster parents because they don’t live according to one narrow set of conservative religious beliefs,” Laser remarked. “Religious freedom can never be a license to discriminate. Americans United is fighting to ensure that good and qualified people like Aimee Maddonna and her family, who wanted to help children in need of loving homes, are never turned away because they fail to pass a taxpayer-funded agency’s religious test.”

Laser added, “The court’s reasoning and application of recent Supreme Court precedent is erroneous. This opinion is the latest example of lower courts struggling to make sense of the wreckage left by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning decades, even centuries of precedent in so many critical areas, including religious freedom and church-state separation. This hard-right turn forces lower-court judges to become mystic historians who must divine the conservative bloc’s next whim in their crusade to allow religiously motivated harm to others. We are reviewing today’s decision with our client to determine our next steps.” (Maddonna v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) 

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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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