The Trump administration announced Wednesday it will allow a ministry in South Carolina that only works with heterosexual Christian families to participate in a federally funded foster care program.
That means Miracle Hill Ministries can receive federal funding to participate in the program while not working with non-Christians, or those who identify as LGBT.
The organization was in violation of a regulation issued by the Obama administration that states organizations receiving funds from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can't discriminate on the basis of religion or sexual orientation.
But Trump's HHS issued an exemption for the ministry to participate in the program, writing that to force it out would be a violation of its religious freedom.
"Our federal agency should not – and, under the laws adopted by Congress, cannot – drive faith-motivated foster care providers out of the business of serving children without a compelling government interest, especially now that child welfare systems are stretched thin as a result of the opioid epidemic," said Lynn Johnson, HHS's assistant secretary for children and families.
“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.”
After the Obama administration issued the regulation, Miracle Hill was notified it was in violation.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) last year asked the Trump administration for an exemption.
The exemption granted Wednesday by HHS will apply to all foster care organizations in the state.
“This decision preserves all of the foster care agencies currently available for children in South Carolina by ensuring faith-based organizations can continue to serve this vulnerable population,” Johnson said.
McMaster said in his request to HHS that Miracle Hill recruits 15 percent of the foster care families in the state and that without the participation of faith-based organizations, it would be difficult to place children in homes.
Miracle Hill, which was founded in 1937, has a long-standing policy of only working with potential foster families that identify as Christian.
On its website, Miracle Hill says foster parents must be born-again believers in Christ, and have a lifestyle that is "free of sexual sin," which includes homosexuality, using pornographic materials and extramarital affairs.
Democrats in Congress blasted HHS's decision Wednesday, arguing that it would make it harder for non-Christians or LGBT individuals to become foster parents when there is already a shortage of those willing to serve.
"To turn away qualified parents because of their religion, sexual orientation or gender identity and deny these kids a secure home is immoral," said Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBiden comments add momentum to spending bill's climate measures These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (D-Ore).
"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."
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, eight states have already passed laws allowing state-contracted child welfare agencies to exclude prospective families based on agencies’ religious beliefs.
But this is the first such action by the federal government — and it could soon be replicated in Texas, where the state government has made a similar request to HHS.