HHS: SC’s faith-based foster care, adoption providers are ok, ACLU calls practice discrimination

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster had a request regarding faith-based foster care providers from an Obama administration regulation make an exception for groups in the Palmetto State.

The regulation initially said that faith-based foster and adoption groups could not discriminate against families who wanted to adopt but did not adhere to the agency's beliefs and still accept federal money to fund their operations. Those beliefs could mean that families of different religions or sexual orientations could be denied a chance to foster or adopt children if they went against private organization's beliefs.

In a statement released Wednesday, the ruling made by the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has granted the governor’s request. It says, in part:

The governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, asked ACF to grant the state an exception, highlighting discrimination against faith-based organizations arising from the December 2016 grants regulation, which became effective in January 2017.  It is a well-established process under HHS regulations that states can request an exception. HHS’s grants regulation establishes that any grantee can seek an exception (or deviation) from particular grant requirements, and sets forth a process for seeking such exceptions. “We have approved South Carolina’s request to protect religious freedom and preserve high-quality foster care placement options for children,” said Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary for ACF. “Faith-based organizations that provide foster care services not only perform a great service for their communities, they are exercising a legally-protected right to practice their faith through good works. Our federal agency should not – and, under the laws adopted by Congress, cannot – drive faith-motivated foster care providers out of the business of serving children without a compelling government interest, especially now that child welfare systems are stretched thin as a result of the opioid epidemic.”
the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Gov. McMaster joined the fight against this policy when a Greenville faith-based center, Miracle Hill Ministries, whose requirement for Christians-only became a contested issue.

"I will never stop fighting for your religious freedom. The generous foster families at Miracle Hill Ministries make sacrifices to protect our vulnerable children, but the government cannot force them to sacrifice their faith. Will you stand with us?" McMaster wrote in February 2018.

I will never stop fighting for your religious freedom. The generous foster families at Miracle Hill Ministries make...

Posted by Henry McMaster on Thursday, February 22, 2018

“We have approved South Carolina’s request to protect religious freedom and preserve high-quality foster care placement options for children,” said Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary for ACF. “Faith-based organizations that provide foster care services not only perform a great service for their communities, they are exercising a legally-protected right to practice their faith through good works. Our federal agency should not – and, under the laws adopted by Congress, cannot – drive faith-motivated foster care providers out of the business of serving children without a compelling government interest, especially now that child welfare systems are stretched thin as a result of the opioid epidemic.”

In considering the request of the state of South Carolina, ACF consulted with department subject-matter experts including the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), to which HHS has delegated the responsibility to ensure compliance among its programs and its grantees with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). “This decision preserves all of the foster care agencies currently available for children in South Carolina by ensuring faith-based organizations can continue to serve this vulnerable population.  It protects minors who are in need of as many options as possible for being placed in loving foster families,” said Johnson.  “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.” As before, all qualified persons interested in becoming certified foster care providers will continue to have multiple avenues for doing so within the state.  Additionally, as a condition of the relief HHS provided the state of South Carolina, subrecipients of grant funds will continue to refer any potential foster care families not accepted into subrecipients’ program to other placement agencies or to the state. “By granting this request to South Carolina, HHS is putting foster care capacity needs ahead of burdensome regulations that are in conflict with the law,” said Johnson.
the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

In response, the ACLU tweeted: “The Governor of South Carolina asked @HHSGov for permission to discriminate against prospective adoptive and foster families based on their religious beliefs — and HHS just granted it. Children who are waiting for loving and supportive homes deserve better than this.”

In another response, the American Principles Project said that HHS responded to the “onerous, discriminatory regulation implemented by the Obama administration.”

Terry Schilling, executive director at American Principles Project, released the following statement applauding HHS for approving the exception for South Carolina faith-based foster care providers and urging further progress toward dismantling the discriminatory Obama-era regulation:

“Just nine days prior to President Trump’s inauguration, the Obama administration implemented a discriminatory regulation that made it the policy of the federal government to viciously discriminate against faith-based foster care providers.

“Today, HHS took an important first step toward reversing that shameful policy by providing the state of South Carolina with an official exception to the regulation, allowing these charities the ability to continue serving poor children who desperately need homes without having to violate key tenets of their faith. HHS also made it clear that the position of the Trump administration is that the Obama-era regulation is in direct conflict with the law.

“We applaud HHS for their effort to protect faith-based foster care providers, and we urge HHS and the Trump administration to continue their efforts to undo this discriminatory regulation in order to preserve the freedom of these providers to continue their important work.”

United States Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) released a statement on the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) decision to protect the religious liberty of South Carolina’s faith-based foster care providers Thursday.

“It is a great day for South Carolina, religious liberty, and all foster-care kids across the Palmetto State. We should ensure that federal regulations do not discriminate against faith-based organizations like South Carolina’s Miracle Hill, that only seek to give thousands of children across our state a family and a place to call home. South Carolina’s voice was heard loud and clear—we will do everything we can to defend those who want to help our most vulnerable. I thank ACF and HHS for ensuring that we provide any and every opportunity for the next generation to flourish and succeed.”
United States Senator Tim Scott

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