This week, Lambda Legal and 75 national and state civil rights, child welfare, and faith organizations submitted a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services (“HHS”) Secretary Alex Azar urging him not to grant South Carolina’s request for an exemption from federal nondiscrimination law for faith-based, government-funded child welfare providers.
South Carolina had requested the waiver on behalf of Miracle Hill Ministries, one of the state’s largest foster agencies that explicitly rejects non-Protestant and LGBT potential foster and adoptive families and people seeking to mentor children in its care.
“The implications of granting a waiver to discriminate for organizations funded with taxpayer dollars such as Miracle Hill are enormous,” said Currey Cook, Counsel and Youth in Out-Of-Home Care Project Director at Lambda Legal. “Miracle Hill is explicit: it will only work with families who are active members of a Protestant church and specifically excludes ‘homosexuals’ in its list of non-objective criteria that have no bearing on the ability to be a good parent or mentor.”
Cook added, “Think of all the potential loving and stable families that excludes, and the message that sends to youth in state care. To allow faith-based agencies to put their beliefs ahead of the well-being of children in the state’s care is not only unconstitutional, but more importantly, it is harmful to the very children agencies are paid by the government to care for. For this reason, child welfare professional standards are clear that all agencies must ensure they do not discriminate against children and families.”
Organizations signing the letter in addition to Lambda Legal include: the American Civil Liberties Union; Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Center for American Progress, The Child Welfare League of America, Children’s Rights, South Carolina Equality, Florida Children’s First, Family Equality Council, The Interfaith Alliance, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Movement Advancement Project, among others.
The letter highlights how the proposed exemption violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, in addition to violating HHS’s legal obligations to ensure state child welfare systems comply with professional standards. Moreover, allowing agencies such as Miracle Hill to discriminate deprives a wide variety of South Carolina individuals and families the ability to provide either a short-term or a permanent home to the more than 4,500 children now in the state’s foster care system, in addition to excluding qualified South Carolinians who would like to mentor children who need additional supportive adults in their lives.
“Families, we know, come in all shapes and sizes,” Cook said. “It is unconscionable to allow taxpayer-funded organizations to exclude loving families from vulnerable youth in need for specious and discriminatory reasons, just as it is harmful and stigmatizing to children themselves. Lambda Legal and our partners will continue to fight against any attempt via court action or legislation to legitimize harm to LGBTQ youth and families or limit the number of homes available for children in need.”
For more information on Lambda Legal’s advocacy around this issue, please visit the website for the Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign. Lambda Legal is proud to be founding member of ECDF and co-chair of the ECDF state coalition with Family Equality Council.
Also, read about Marouf v. Azar, Lambda Legal’s case on behalf of a lesbian couple who were turned away by a government-funded, faith-based agency when they tried to foster a refugee child.
Also, read Lambda Legal’s friend-of-the-court brief in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the appeal filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit by Catholic Social Services seeking a license to discriminate and an exemption to Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance.