President Donald Trump’s administration moved to protect the freedom of religious foster care providers facing “burdensome regulations” from his predecessor.
Adoption and foster care agencies threatened by regulations put in place at the end of former President Obama’s administration found new hope as the Trump administration provided an exemption to one provider, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
The Department of Health and Human Services was asked to provide an exemption by the state of South Carolina when one of its largest foster care agencies faced requirements on placement that conflicted with their mission and religious foundation. The regulations, put in place as Obama left office, forced adoption and foster care groups to eliminate their “discriminatory” standards if they wished to receive federal assistance.
Miracle Hill Ministries received the requested exemption from the Trump administration last week, allowing the agency to continue to place children in Christian households without penalty.
“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,” Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary for the department’s Administration for Children and Families, said in a statement. “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.”
According to Free Beacon:
Religious providers have been forced to close their doors after regulators in states such as Illinois and Massachusetts because they did not place children in homosexual households. Johnson said the federal government should not pressure religious believers to violate the tenets of their faith in order to serve vulnerable children. The United States faces a shortage of providers even as the demand for them has increased amid the opioid crisis, according to the agency.
“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,” Johnson said. “It protects minors who are in need of as many options as possible for being placed in loving foster families.”
Mark Rienzi, an attorney representing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was pleased with the religious freedom protections and believes it will send a clear message to other local governments.
“There were raised fears that some HHS requirements would kick religious providers out, so it was very good for the agency make clear that that’s not what federal law requires,” Rienzi said. “This takes federal law and the Constitution’s requirement to respect the civil rights of believers seriously.”
“By granting this waiver, President Trump … (has) shown the entire world that, as Americans, our fundamental right to practice religion, regardless of our faith, will not be in jeopardy under this administration,” Republican South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement.
Critics have slammed the Miracle Hill decision, claiming the provider is discriminating for following its religious principles.
“I have stood against discrimination my entire career, and this waiver is unlawful discrimination based on religion and sexual orientation,” U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, said, according to WSPA. “The real tragedy of this situation is that federal funding is being used to keep children out of loving homes.”
“It breaks my heart that they would frame it that way because it’s not,” Miracle Hill Ministries President/CEO Reid Lehman told WSPA, noting that there are several other agencies in the area that could be options for placement. “So if someone doesn’t fit with maybe our particular screen we’re glad to help them find another agency they can work with.”
While praising the Trump administration’s decision, Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, called for further steps to ensure protections for religious providers. Schilling believes the administration needs to repeal the Obama-era regulations and put protections in place to shield providers from future government attempts to use “the power of the State to bully people who just want to live out their faith and serve their communities.”
“We appreciate that Trump’s HHS has shown a desire to overturn this shameful Obama-era regulation, and we encourage them to keep up the good work and finish the job as soon as possible,” Schilling said.
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