The federal government has granted a Christian foster care program in South Carolina a waiver from a “coercive Obama-era” regulation that could have forced it to shut down.
The Obama administration implemented a “nondiscrimination” plan that barred Miracle Hill Ministries from accepting only Protestant, churchgoing parents to its federally funded foster care program.
Miracle Hill Ministries has provided 15 percent of the state’s homes for foster care placements.
The waiver requested by Republican Gov. Henry McMaster allows Miracle Hill to maintain its religious beliefs while providing foster homes.
The only condition is that if there’s a conflict over the religious position the organization holds, Miracle Hill will refer foster candidates to another group.
“South Carolina has more than 4,000 children in foster care who deserve every opportunity to find a safe and welcoming home, and Miracle Hill has a proven track record of serving children in need,” said Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has worked on such cases.
“Thankfully, HHS took a critical step to address a coercive Obama-era HHS regulation that would have forced Miracle Hill to stop serving vulnerable kids. Now, Miracle Hill and other faith-based providers in South Carolina may continue to place children in stable foster homes consistent with the very religious beliefs that inspire their service to those in need.
“No child-welfare provider should be prevented from serving children and families because the government doesn’t like their religious beliefs. This is both unlawful and unjust. We’re grateful that HHS and South Carolina alike are taking steps to keep kids first.”
Steven Wagner, principal deputy assistant secretary for the federal Administration for Children and Families, said in a letter to the governor: “After reviewing all of the information you have provided, we have determined that requiring your subgrantee Miracle Hill to comply with the religious non-discrimination provision of (the mandate) would cause a burden to religious beliefs that is unacceptable under RFRA.
“While this determination is sufficient to require the granting of your request for an exception from such provision of the regulation, we also note that the application of the regulatory requirement would also cause a significant programmatic burden for the SC Foster Care Program by impeding the placement of children into foster care.
“HHS is hereby conditionally granting the requested exception.”
In other states, Christian groups that place foster-care children in homes have withdrawn from the system.
The letter noted that the Obama regulation was causing hardship for foster children and faith-based organizations, exceeding the requirements or authority of the law and limiting “the free exercise of religion of faith-based organizations in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
Miracle Hill, which also requested help from HHS, had been granted only a provisional license that was scheduled for revocation unless the federal government acted.
The letter said the agency’s Office of Civil Rights found that the requirement would “substantially burden” Miracle Hill’s “sincere religious exercise.”
Further, the mandate was “not the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling government interest.”