A coalition of organizations are urging the Trump administration not to allow South Carolina adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
Lambda Legal and 75 national and state LGBTQ rights, civil rights, child welfare, and faith organizations have signed a letter requesting that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar deny South Carolina’s request for a religious exemption for foster care agencies.
The exemption would allow child placement agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples or LGBTQ individuals, among others.
The state originally requested a waiver on behalf of Miracle Hill Ministries, one of South Carolina’s largest foster care agencies, which explicitly refuses to place children with families who are not Protestant, heterosexual married couples.
Gov. Henry McMaster (R), one of Miracle Hill’s biggest defenders, issued an executive order in March that directed the state Department of Social Services not to punish child placement agencies that discriminate based on religious beliefs.
McMaster argued that such agencies will be forced to close their doors if they cannot receive taxpayer dollars while continuing to discriminate.
“The implications of granting a waiver to discriminate for organizations funded with taxpayer dollars such as Miracle Hill are enormous,” Currey Cook, counsel and Youth in Out-of-Home-Care Project Director at Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “Miracle Hill is explicit: it will only work with families who are active members of a Protestant church and specifically excludes ‘homosexuals’ in its list of non-objective criteria that have no bearing on the ability to be a good parent or mentor. Think of all the potential loving and stable families that excludes, and the message that sends to youth in state care.
“To allow faith-based agencies to put their beliefs ahead of the well-being of children in the state’s care is not only unconstitutional, but more importantly, it is harmful to the very children agencies are paid by the government to care for,” Cook added. “For this reason, child welfare professional standards are clear that all agencies must ensure they do not discriminate against children and families.”
The letter comes a month after 21 child advocacy agencies expressed their own opposition to the granting the waiver. All opponents argue that the provision would violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and will effectively deny children in the foster care system a chance to find a more permanent home by limiting the pool of qualified prospective parents. Currently, there are about 4,500 children in the foster care system in South Carolina.
“Granting South Carolina’s request would upend HHS’s responsibility to ensure that states are properly caring for the nation’s children by explicitly permitting a provider to put its own interests ahead of the best interest and explicit rights of the children in its care,” the letter reads. “In addition, an exemption would sanction taxpayer-funded discrimination by organizations providing a government service, violating a host of constitutional and statutory protections.”
In addition to Lambda Legal, some of the other organizations signing the letter urging Azar reject the request for a waiver include: the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Center for American Progress, The Child Welfare League of America, Children’s Rights, South Carolina Equality, the Family Equality Council, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Movement Advancement Project.
“Families, we know, come in all shapes and sizes,” Cook said in a statement. “It is unconscionable to allow taxpayer-funded organizations to exclude loving families from vulnerable youth in need for specious and discriminatory reasons, just as it is harmful and stigmatizing to children themselves.”