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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 25, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 04
HHS OKs religious discrimination
Section One
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HHS OKs religious discrimination

South Carolina adoption agency may turn down LGBT and non-Christian applicants

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a waiver allowing a Christian adoption agency in South Carolina to reject foster parent applicants on a religious basis.

The waiver, issued January 23, came in response to a request by South Carolina's Republican governor, Henry McMasters.

Federal law prohibits states from licensing service providers that discriminate on the basis of religion but also allows for case-by-case waivers. Miracle Hill Ministries, the adoption agency in question, sought a waiver that would allow it to receive a state license, while denying applications from non-Christian couples.

According to the Greenville News, Miracle Hill turned away a Jewish woman because she didn't share the organization's Christian beliefs.

The group also has referred qualified foster parent applicants to other agencies because they were same-sex couples. Miracle Hill chief executive Reid Lehman told The Post and Courier of Charleston that the policy is based on the belief that 'God's design for marriage is the legal joining of one man and one woman.'

In granting the waiver, HHS argued that Obama-era regulations improperly expanded the requirements placed on such agencies by federal law.

'This decision...protects minors who are in need of as many options as possible for being placed in loving foster families,' Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary of the federal agency that administers the foster-care program, said in a statement.

'The government should not be in the business of forcing foster care providers to close their doors because of their faith. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right.'

Johnson said all qualified, would-be foster parents will continue to have other options in South Carolina. As a condition of the waiver, federally funded faith-based groups will continue to be required to refer any potential foster care families that they do not accept to other placement agencies or to Social Services.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State denounced the Trump administration's decision to sanction taxpayer-funded discrimination by allowing South Carolina foster care agencies the right to refuse to work with anyone they deem the 'wrong' religion.

'This is yet another example of the Trump administration using religion to advance a regressive political agenda that harms others. And this time, the target is not only religious minorities but also our most vulnerable children - those in need of loving homes,' said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. 'It is unconscionable that this administration would use government funds to discriminate against the very populations our laws are designed to protect.

'While this waiver is specific to South Carolina, it sets a dangerous nationwide precedent that elevates the beliefs of government-funded programs over the best interests of the children in their care,' Laser continued. 'Religious freedom is a fundamental American right - it should never be used to justify discrimination.'

Currently, about 13% of South Carolina foster families are supported by Miracle Hill. Those families care for about 5% of the state's 4,624 foster children, said Chrysti Shain, a Social Services spokeswoman.

South Carolina licenses 11 child-placement agencies with religious affiliations, Shain added.

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