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Administration grants waiver to let South Carolina adoption agencies refuse LGBTQ parents

Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin are plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought by Lambda Legal against a Catholic agency that refused to place a refugee child with them because they’re lesbians. (Photo from Lambda Legal)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Trump administration has granted a wavier that would allow the state to license religious adoption agencies that focus on specific religions, and refuse to serve other groups like LGBTQ and Jewish families.

From The State of Columbia:

The waiver was requested to head off Miracle Hill losing its license and federal funding under a new regulation put in place by the Obama administration. The new rule barred publicly funded foster-care agencies from serving specific religions.

Miracle Hill Foster Care has been operating under a provisional license pending the outcome of the waiver request.

“We are deeply gratified by this decision, which allows Miracle Hill Foster Care to keep its license and continue serving nearly 200 foster children and more than 230 foster families,” Miracle Hill chief executive Reid Lehman said in a statement.

In granting the waiver, Health and Human Services argued the Obama-era regulation improperly expanded the requirements placed on such agencies by federal law.

Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary of the federal agency that administers the foster-care program, told The State in a statement that qualified foster parents would be referred to other agencies or Social Services.

“This decision … protects minors who are in need of as many options as possible for being placed in loving foster families,” Johnson said. “The government should not be in the business of forcing foster care providers to close their doors because of their faith. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right.”

Johnson said all qualified, would-be foster parents will continue to have other options in South Carolina. As a condition of the waiver, federally funded faith-based groups will continue to be required to refer any potential foster-care families that they do not accept to other placement agencies or to Social Services.

Opponents have been fighting the waiver for months. The State reported that the Anti-Defamation League urged Health and Human Services to reject the waiver request, arguing it would allow foster agencies to deny applications by would-be Jewish foster parents and others based on their religion.

“Allowing a taxpayer funded agency to discriminate against Jews and other minorities is outrageous and sets a dangerous precedent,” Anti-Defamation League chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt told the newspaper in a statement. “This is clearly unlawful and will not hold up in court. No child should be denied a loving foster or adoptive home simply because a prospective parent is Jewish or Muslim, gay or lesbian.”

“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, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. “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.”

“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,” Lambda Legal Youth in Out-Of-Home Care Project Director Currey Cook said in a statement. “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.”

Lambda Legal is fighting a similar case in the courts with Marouf v. Azar, a lesbian couple turned away by government-funded, faith-based agency when they tried to foster a refugee child.

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