The Trump administration said last month that it continue giving federal funds to a South Carolina foster agency that discriminated against non-Christians. Under the previous rules, Miracle Hill Ministries was denied funding from the Department of Health and Human Services because the Christian organization didn’t want to place kids in the homes of otherwise qualified parents who happened to be gay or atheist. The Trump administration reversed that restriction, allowing money to flow to the foster home of Christian bigotry. In the last fiscal year, the agency received almost $600,000 in taxpayer funds.
Now a church/state separation group is filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration over their decision, and the most interesting part of the case may be that the plaintiff isn’t gay or atheist or even non-Christian. The plaintiff is Aimee Maddonna, a Catholic mother of three, who says she was discriminated against because she’s “not the right kind of Christian.”
“I wanted to open up my family and my home to kids in need,” Maddonna said. “I have the view that every child has the ability to enrich the lives of adults around them, too.”
“I’ve never considered myself a religious minority until that moment,” Maddonna said. “I had to tell my kids that, because we’re Catholic, we can’t take these kids out for ice cream and cheer them on at their games. I was devastated.”
As far as plaintiff go, you can’t do better than this. It takes away the entire argument that this is some anti-Christian attack. Maddonna believes in the same God these Christians do; she’s just the wrong flavor of Christianity.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, suing on Maddonna’s behalf, says that discrimination by government-funded agencies is unconstitutional. Moreover, HHS “did not follow proper procedure when it excused South Carolina and its foster care agencies from following federal anti-discrimination law.”
“At its heart, this case is about two of our country’s most sacred principles: defending religious freedom for all and protecting vulnerable children,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “It is unconscionable — and unconstitutional — that an amazing mother like Aimee Maddonna and her loving family are barred from helping children in need because they are the ‘wrong’ religion. We will not allow this country to return to the days of ‘no Catholics or Jews allowed.’”
When you read about Maddonna’s history — about her father, who instilled in her the desire to care for foster children; about her upbringing, during which she was surrounded by foster children; about her caring for special needs kids — it’s clear that she’s a model parent. Any foster care agency would bend over backwards to have someone like her walk through their door, but Miracle Hill rejected a supremely qualified individual on the basis of her faith (and literally nothing else). Their rejection has affected Maddonna in other ways, too, as the lawsuit notes:
Because of the discrimination that she faced at Miracle Hill, Mrs. Maddonna has been afraid to reach out to the other nongovernmental foster-care child-placement agencies, all of which she believes are faith-based. She does not want to get her family’s hopes up again, only to be told once more that their kind is not welcome to volunteer with or provide a loving home to children in South Carolina’s foster-care system.
Miracle Hill has every right to its own beliefs. The government, however, doesn’t get to play religious favorites or reward religious discrimination. That’s why it’s government officials and agencies, not Miracle Hill, named as defendants in the lawsuit.
“This is a problem that the government has caused. If Miracle Hill were a private entity not accepting state and federal money, then they could decide with their private money whom they served,” Laser said. “Aimee isn’t the right kind of Christian, so they don’t serve her.”
It’ll be interesting to see how the Christian Right spins this since they can’t blame their usual bogeymen of godless and gay activists. But ultimately, their defense of the government’s actions will show that Christian supremacy — and a specific brand of Christianity at that — matters far more than “religious freedom.”
(Image via Americans United)