You may not get to a foster a child in South Carolina anytime soon if you’re anything but a White, heterosexual, Christian couple after the Donald Trump administration recently granted a federally funded foster care agency in the Palmetto State the right to freely discriminate against potential foster parents who are LGBTQ, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, and other non-Protestant faiths.
The Department of Health and Human Services issued a waiver on January 23 that will allow Miracle Hill Ministries in Greenville, South Carolina and other faith-based foster care agencies in South Carolina to continue to turn away some foster parents based on religious and other criteria. The waiver requires that Miracle Hill Ministries must refer the foster parents it rejects to other agencies or the South Carolina Department of Social Services.
Where Will the Children Go?
What happens next for these children who have ended up in the foster care system in South Carolina and who desperately want a family to love them? The already high number of babies, small children, and teenagers in the system in South Carolina will only rise because adults looking to offer a loving home to these children will be told they do not qualify. They will be told they are not fit parents because of the color of their skin, their country of origin, or whom they have chosen as their life partner.
While South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, who requested the waiver from the federal government back in February 2018, praised Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar for their decision, non-Christian groups and LGBTQ rights advocacy groups are angry and saddened about the decision to put Miracle Hill Ministries’ religious freedom over the civil rights of LGBTQ and non-Protestant South Carolinians. A Jewish woman who wanted to volunteer her time with Miracle Hill Ministries to mentor children in foster care was turned away because of her religion.
Miracle Hill Ministries admits that it expects families who foster children to raise them in a Christian environment, and the children are expected to worship at home and in a church. Miracle Hill Ministries employees, foster parents, and mentors are required to sign a statement agreeing to the organization’s core evangelical beliefs. The strict religious requirements of the organization even prevent Catholics from participating in its foster care program even though Catholics are Christian.
More Children Left “In the System”
Sadly, the waiver comes at a difficult time for foster children in South Carolina as the number of foster homes is declining in the state. The number of children in state custody increased from about 3,100 in 2012 to almost 4,600 in 2018, and with the waiver applying to many foster homes in South Carolina, the number of children placed in loving foster homes will only decrease. The number of children who spend the rest of their lives in state custody instead of in safe and loving homes will continue to grow because so many people wishing to foster and adopt will be turned away.
Outrage Over the Decision
The Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, Leslie Cooper, encouraged Congress to stop the waiver from “setting off a devastating domino effect” that would affect foster care children across the country. Her statement, in part, said: “It is despicable that this administration would authorize federally-funded state child welfare agencies to allow caring, qualified families to be turned away because they don’t pass a religious litmus test,”
Cooper asked, “Shouldn’t prospective foster and adoptive parents be judged on their capacity to provide love and support to a child instead of on their religious beliefs?”