On Wednesday, the Trump administration made a move that allows the religious right to use the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act to discriminate against foster parents whose religious views conflict with an agency, according to The Intercept.
Steven Wegner, the principal deputy assistant secretary at the Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families signed a waiver giving special permission to a "federally funded Protestant foster care agency in South Carolina to break federal and state law, using strict religious requirements to deny Jewish, Muslim, and Catholic Parents from fostering children in its network."
Wagner allowed the agency to keep federal funding despite state Department of Social Services warning that it was violating nondiscrimination law at the federal and state level as well as internal agency policy when they denied Jewish parents from fostering children. Anyone who is not a Protestant Christian is denied the ability to foster through this agency, including those who are agnostic and atheist.
Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary for HHS Administration for Children and Families, said “We have approved South Carolina’s request to protect religious freedom and preserve high-quality foster care placement options for children. 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.”
The waiver could have larger implications for other states dealing with religious freedom in their foster care systems.
The waiver reads: “You state that South Carolina has more than 4,000 children in foster care, that South Carolina needs more child placing agencies, and that faith-based organizations ‘are essential’ to recruiting more families for child placement. You specifically cite Miracle Hill, a faith-based organization that recruits 15% of the foster care families in the SC Foster Care Program, and you state that, without the participation of such faith-based organizations, South Carolina would have difficulty continuing to place all children in need of foster care.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made a similar request to the HHS Administration for Children and Families in December "to either repeal the nondiscrimination rules governing child welfare funding, or to exempt Texas and providers in the state from it." This waiver may have an effect on the Texas request.
The Texas request unambiguously asks for permission to discriminate based on religion and sexual orientation.
Trump’s administration has made religious freedom for Christians a priority. Conservative lawmakers are using this to chisel away at federal nondiscrimination law, which they argue is unfair because it is a burden to organizations which only want to serve those people who observe the same religion.
Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said, “The decision by HHS to allow for taxpayer-funded discrimination is an affront to American values, jeopardizing the safety and protection of vulnerable children in South Carolina, and potentially across the country. It’s appalling that the Trump administration continues to throw the interests of children out the window. There are foster kids sleeping in hotels and living in temporary shelters. To turn away qualified parents because of their religion, sexual orientation or gender identity and deny these kids a secure home is immoral.”