Trump Admin: Government-Funded Foster Agency Can Deny Non-Christians January 24, 2019

Trump Admin: Government-Funded Foster Agency Can Deny Non-Christians

The Trump administration said this week that it approves of the policies of a South Carolina ministry and foster agency that gets federal funds despite discriminating against all non-Christian applicants.

We covered the story in October, when the state of South Carolina asked the president to grant Miracle Hill Ministries the right to discriminate against atheists, Jews, and any other families who don’t hold very specific Christian beliefs. Now, perhaps in an attempt to appeal to his slowly shrinking base, Trump officials have said yes.

While it’s not clear why the federal government waited so long to approve the waiver, it’s obvious why the green-light was never really in question: It’s a chance to undermine President Obama.

The long-standing policy of Miracle Hill Ministries of Greenville violates a regulation, put into place in the closing days of the Obama administration, that bars discrimination on the basis of religion by groups receiving money from the Department of Health and Human Services

On Wednesday, HHS said it would grant the waiver, days before the group’s provisional license was set to expire. The department argued that the Obama-era regulation was ill-conceived and that some of its requirements “are not reflected” in the underlying statute.

In a letter to the governor sent Friday, Steven Wagner, an HHS official who oversees the foster-care program, wrote that requiring Miracle Hill to accept non-Christians would be a substantial burden on its exercise of religion, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In a statement, another HHS official, Lynn Johnson, said the agency cannot exclude faith-based providers unless there is a compelling government interest.

“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,” said Johnson, assistant secretary at the Administration for Children and Families.

Nobody ever asked this ministry to shut its doors just because of its faith. Christian foster agencies are well within their rights to operate as long as they do so within the law. But to give these agencies taxpayer funding when they openly discriminate against people who aren’t like them isn’t just bad politics; it hurts the very children they claim to care for, limiting the potential parent pool.

Some groups are already speaking out against the administration’s decision to approve the waiver since it punishes anyone who is deemed part of 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.”

She’s absolutely right to point that out. This decision isn’t just about one ministry or even about South Carolina in general. This is about how we see foster care. Rather than saying children should be placed in homes with loving, decent parents, the government is handing over money to a group that insists accepting their brand of faith is a requirement for anyone who wants to care for these children. You could be doing everything right, and open up your home to a child who needs it, but if you happen to love the wrong person or worship in a different way, these Christians want nothing to do with you. Now they’re being rewarded for it.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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