The Trump administration is currently mulling the idea of granting South Carolina its request to allow religious foster care agencies in the state to discriminate against Jewish parents, as well as virtually any parents who do not adhere to the Protestant Christian faith, according to The Intercept.
The argument, from the state and from the agency, is that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act should not force a Protestant group to work with Jewish people if it violates a tenet of their faith.
The case being made by South Carolina is an extension of the debate around RFRA, which is more commonly associated with discrimination against LGBTQ people, but by no means applies exclusively to that group.
If granted, the exemption would allow Miracle Hill Ministries, a Protestant social service agency working in the state’s northwest region, to continue receiving federal dollars while “recruiting Christian foster families,” which it has been doing since 1988, according to its website. That discrimination would apply not just to Jewish parents, but also to parents who are Muslim, Catholic, Unitarian, atheist, agnostic or other some other non-Protestant Christian denomination.
Miracle Hill has said that while it will not take parents who do not meet their criteria, it refers them to agencies that will — but Miracle Hill is the region’s highest quality agency, and anyone they turn away is left to deal directly with the state’s Department of Social Services or potentially drive hours away to find another agency.
For the state’s DSS, the practice of discriminating against Jewish families was too much. As early as January 2018, DSS sent a letter raising concerns that the agency was violating federal and state nondiscrimination laws, as well as DSS policy, by requiring applicants to meet strict religious standards — namely, being a practicing Protestant and not being in a same-sex relationship. The letter was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union, which provided it to The Intercept.
“In telephone conversations with the Department, Miracle Hill has given the Department reason to believe Miracle Hill intends to refuse to provide its services as a licensed Child Placing Agency to families who are not specifically Christians from a Protestant denomination,” the letter reads, offering Miracle Hill 30 days to resolve the issue and 30 more days to implement a new approach.
But Miracle Hill, which is closely allied with the top GOP leadership of the state, had a different response: It went to lawmakers and the governor, who changed state law to shield Miracle Hill from DSS. The state officials in turn pleaded Miracle Hill’s case to the Trump administration.
How the Trump administration will decide remains unknown, but the president has shown special favor toward Christians during his tenure.
The Trump administration has made clear that religious freedom, at least for those of the Christian faith, is a priority. And following Governor Henry McMaster’s March executive order supporting Miracle Hill, tucked into a 2018-2019 budget proviso bill that passed the General Assembly on June 28, South Carolina added a clause that would keep DSS from discriminating or taking “any adverse action against a faith-based child placing agency” on the basis that the agency is declining services that conflict with its faith.
The request now sits with the Department of Health and Human Services, which will have the final say on whether Miracle Hill may continue to its faith-based discrimination.
The organization’s last provisional state license expired July 25, and DSS won’t issue a permanent one until Miracle Hill proves it’s not discriminating — or DSS gets a federal order to make an exception.
Such an order is already drafted. It’s awaiting final signature on the desk of Secretary Alex Azar at the Department of Health and Human Services. If granted, Miracle Hill will be allowed to continue denying qualified families from adopting kids based on religious views.