Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services granted a waiver to Miracle Hill, a South Carolina foster-family agency, exempting it from an Obama-era regulation requiring that federally funded agencies serve everyone, even if doing so violates the organizations’ religious principles.
Reaction on the left was swift. “Let’s call this decision what it is: state-sanctioned and government-funded discrimination,” said Christina Wilson Remlin, lead lawyer for Children’s Rights. “It is despicable that this administration would authorize federally funded state child welfare agencies to allow caring, qualified families to be turned away because they don’t pass a religious litmus test,” said ACLU lawyer Leslie Cooper.
Conservatives, by contrast, have defended the decision on religious-liberty grounds. Nonprofit organizations and businesses should be able to operate according to their religious values, they argue. But the stakes here are even higher than for, say, the bakers of wedding cakes. Most foster-care agencies are faith-based. Some 440,000 kids are in foster care in the U.S.; if we shut down faith-based foster agencies, those children will have a much harder time finding homes.
Indeed, it is safe to say that most foster families in this country take in needy children because their religious beliefs tell them to do so. Foster agencies recruit these families, train them, and even certify them in some cases; they also offer emotional and logistical support for months and even years after placement. And religious foster families are among those most likely to take in children with special needs.