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WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2019 — The Trump administration granted permission today for government-contracted child welfare agencies in South Carolina to turn away would-be foster and adoptive parents based on religion.
The decision comes in response to a request by the South Carolina governor, asking the Department of Health and Human Services to use the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to grant it an exception to nondiscrimination requirements for state-contracted child welfare agencies — specifically, to allow one such agency, Miracle Hill Ministries, to continue restricting eligibility for foster and adoptive parents to couples who share the agency’s protestant Christian beliefs.
Eight states have already passed laws allowing state-contracted child welfare agencies to exclude prospective families based on agencies’ religious beliefs. But this is the first action by the federal government to sanction such discrimination — and it could soon be replicated in Texas, where the state government has made a similar request to HHS.
Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, had the following reaction:
“There are more than 400,000 children in foster care around the country, and today the Trump administration has turned its back on each of them. Many of those children live in group homes, are separated from siblings, or age out of foster care without ever becoming part of a family because of the shortage of foster and adoptive families to care for them. It is despicable that this administration would authorize federally-funded state child welfare agencies to allow caring, qualified families to be turned away because they don’t pass a religious litmus test. Prospective foster and adoptive parents should be judged only on their capacity to provide love and support to a child — not their faith.
“It is essential for Congress to exercise its power of oversight and stop the waiver to South Carolina from setting off a devastating domino effect. We encourage members to quickly initiate hearings, as well as moving to pass the Do No Harm Act to prevent religious freedom from being used to undermine nondiscrimination protections that ensure our children do not lose out on qualified families. Our elected officials need to make clear that the interest of children — not the religious views of taxpayer-funded agencies — come first.”