The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), on Wednesday, granted a waiver from federal non-discrimination requirements to South Carolina’s Foster Care Program, which has contracted with a child welfare provider who seeks permission to refuse to serve prospective parents who do not share their religious beliefs.

 

HHS granted a request by South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican, that taxpayer-funded agencies contracted with the State to provide child welfare services be exempted from federal rules prohibiting discrimination and be allowed to work only with families who meet their religious litmus test.

 FosterCare
According to the Lambda Legal, in addition to violating the principle of separation of church and state, the waiver violates a host of statutory and constitutional protections which apply to children in foster care and allows South Carolina agencies to turn away parents trying to provide children with good homes.


“By granting this waiver, the Trump Administration is favoring the religious beliefs of some over the wellbeing and best interests of youth in care, which is the core obligation of the child welfare system," said Lambda Legal Youth in Out-Of-Home Care Project Director Currey Cook. "Organizations which receive taxpayer funding and provide government functions, like foster care services, are required to comply with constitutional protections which protect Americans from discrimination. There should not be a special pass around those rules. This is unacceptable and alarming."


“Our federal government should never be in the business of granting taxpayer-funded organizations a license to discriminate, and privileging the religious liberty of certain faiths over the needs of vulnerable children in the foster care system, a disproportionate number of whom are LGBTQ," said Cook.


The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) organization, also condemned the HHS decision stating it opens the door to federally-funded discrimination justified by religious belief against any number of prospective parents, including single parents, LGBTQ individuals or same-sex couples, parents who may previously have been divorced, and many others.


“Every decision that is made by a provider of child welfare services must be grounded in doing what is the best interest of the child, period. Providing care for these kids is critically important, and too many kids languish in the foster care system because there aren’t enough foster and adoptive parents for each child. Allowing a federal contractor the ability to refuse to work with qualified prospective parents - limiting the pool of prospective parents even further - is directly counter to the best interests of the children waiting for families,” said Cathryn Oakley, HRC State Legislative Director & Senior Counsel. “The federal government has a compelling interest in ensuring federal contractors are providing quality care, and in ensuring that taxpayers aren’t footing the bill for taxpayer-funded discrimination. This waiver is unconscionable, in no small part because it prioritizes federal contractors over kids in need of families.”

 

While federal law prohibits discrimination in federally-funded programs against foster parents on religious grounds, 10 states permit discrimination by state-licensed foster care organizations against LGBTQ people, same-sex couples and others if doing so conflicts with the organization’s religious beliefs.

 

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