December 2018 Church & State - December 2018

HHS Considers South Carolina Proposal To Allow Foster-Care Agencies To Turn Away Non-Christians

  Rob Boston

Officials in South Carolina are lobbying the Trump administration to ensure that a conservative Christian foster-care agency doesn’t have to place children with any prospective parents who disagree with its theology.

Miracle Hill Ministries in Green­ville stated in a newsletter that it had made it clear to state officials that “the heart of our ministry was tied to our common faith in Jesus Christ, and that while we would help any healthy family find a way to provide foster care by helping connect them to some other agency, Miracle Hill would only work directly with Christian families.”         

Miracle Hill is licensed by the state and receives tax funding for its work placing children, yet it has made it clear that it won’t work with families that fall outside its interpretation of Christianity.

Journalist Sarah Posner with The Nation reported that South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has personally intervened in the matter. McMaster wrote to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and later told Miracle Hill’s CEO, Reid Lehman, “It is important that religious organizations not be required to sacrifice the tenets of their faith in order to serve the children of South Carolina.”

The investigative website “The Intercept” reported in October that the Trump administration is considering the request. The site quoted Beth Lesser, a Jewish woman, who was denied service by Miracle Hill.

“Understand, in the upstate of South Carolina, if you want to be a foster parent or a mentor, there’s DSS (Department of Social Services), which is the government. And there’s Miracle Hill. There really isn’t anybody else,” Lesser said.

Lesser said she and her husband have fostered children when they lived in other states, but she said the situation in South Carolina is different.

“What Miracle Hill does, is they scoop up these kids from foster care, and they have these group homes,” Lesser told “The Intercept.”

“And then once they get the kids in there, their whole objective is to indoctrinate them into their brand of Christianity.”

Miracle Hill’s application for pro­spective foster parents requires them to list their “denominational affiliation” and provide the name of their pastor. It also requires “a brief, personal testimony of your faith/sal­­vation.” Under its fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity, not only are Jews denied   service, but so would Unitarians, non-believers, Cath­o­lics and even progressive Chris­tians.

While South Carolina’s Department of Social Services has been adamant that Miracle Hill must drop its discriminatory policies to keep state certification, McMaster issued an executive order intended to shield the agency from regulation.

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