WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Trump Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) gave an okay on Jan. 23 to allow federally-funded child welfare agencies in South Carolina to refuse services on the basis of religion. The decision came in response to a request made by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster last year.
McMaster sought council from the Trump Administration to allow South Carolina to utilize the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to waive non-discrimination requirements for federally-funded child placing agencies. The request initially came from a specific faith-based agency known as Miracle Hill Ministries, a Protestant social service agency working in the state’s northwest region, which covers Greenville, Pickens and Spartanburg Counties. It promotes itself as exclusively “recruiting Christian foster families,” and has done so since 1988.
“HHS’s decision to grant South Carolina’s waiver request allows taxpayer funded discrimination on the backs of South Carolina’s most vulnerable children,” said Shelbi Day, senior policy counsel at Family Equality Council.
Formerly known as Family Pride, the Family Equality Council is a national American non-profit organization whose mission is to advance equality rights and concerns for gay and lesbian families
”Allowing child placing agencies to turn away qualified adoptive and foster parents reduces the number of loving families available to the over 4,000 children in South Carolina’s foster care system, and further demonstrates that the Trump administration values a narrow set of religious beliefs over the need to find loving, stable homes for children currently in state care.”
With the allowance for South Carolina’s federally funded adoption agencies to freely discriminate against any party they deem unfit based on their religious beliefs, the exemption prevents not just LGBTQ families in the state from potential adoption, but Jews, Muslims and families in the non-faith community, as well.
Furthermore, it sets a precedent that could potentially enable any federally-funded community service agency in the U.S. to claim the same right to discriminate solely based on religious beliefs.
“It is now more critical than ever that Congress fulfill their oversight responsibility and act to stop the damage that will be caused by this waiver, and the risk that other states may move to request similar waivers,” Day emphasized. “Congress [needs] to hold oversight hearings, and move to pass the Do No Harm Act to ensure appeals so ‘protecting religious freedom’ cannot be used to [cause] harm.”