This February, the South Carolina Department of Social Services informed state-contracted faith-based foster care agency Miracle Hill Ministries that it could lose federal funding if it continued to discriminate against non-Christian families. South Carolina’s governor, Henry McMaster, intervened in the case and issued a statewide executive order exempting faith-based child protection agencies from laws prohibiting religious discrimination. Now, the Trump administration is considering, at Miracle Hill’s request, a federal waiver to allow the agency to receive federal funds while continuing to deny the opportunity to become foster parents to non-Christians or others who don’t share the same religious beliefs as agency leaders.
Miracle Hill Ministries, a social service agency operating under the Protestant faith, argues that their right to refuse Jewish people and others falls under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. With approval from the Trump administration, Miracle Hill—and other faith-based foster care agencies—could receive federal funding while discriminating against Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Unitarian, atheist, agnostic, and other prospective parents. If the waiver is approved, it will likely lead to more widespread discrimination on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, gender, and marital status.
In South Carolina, one of the states hardest hit by the opioid crisis, thousands of children are in need of foster placement and, if they cannot return to birth family or relatives, an adoptive family. At a time when we most need loving families to step forward, discriminatory waivers or laws such as this harm children. By allowing one of the most prominent taxpayer-funded foster care providers in the area to refuse services to would-be parents on the basis of religion, South Carolina is limiting the pool of prospective foster and adoptive parents and creating a climate that may discourage non-Christian prospective parents—both of which make it harder for children to be placed with families (rather than group homes or institutions) or to ever achieve permanency.
Our federal and state governments must maintain non-discriminatory policies that ensure the best outcomes for vulnerable children. Every state’s legal, moral, and ethical obligation is to improve the lives of children in its care by ensuring they are cared for in families—families of diverse backgrounds and faiths that reflect the varied fabric of our society.
To advocate for children and families and fight discrimination such as this, NACAC works alongside the Family Equality Council as part of the Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign. Join the effort at everychilddeservesafamily.com.