Miracle Hill Ministries back in the crosshairs
The Biden administration is canceling waivers that ensured conscience protections for faith-based foster care agencies
Miracle Hill Ministries of Greenville, S.C., is the largest foster care agency in the 10-county upstate region and handles 15 percent of all placements in the state. But a Biden administration policy change could end the nearly 90-year-old ministry’s ability to help foster children.
Last, week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) moved to remove Trump-era waivers that allowed faith-based foster care agencies in three states to follow their religious convictions on marriage and sexuality without running afoul of federal nondiscrimination law.
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration in January 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services added sexual orientation and gender identity to existing nondiscrimination regulations. The rule required recipients of HHS funding to “treat as valid the marriages of same-sex couples.” Child-placement organizations like Miracle Hill faced a choice: Comply with the dictate by placing children with same-sex couples and violate religious convictions, or lose federal funding and their state license.
Miracle Hill has helped find homes for South Carolina foster children since 1988. In February 2018, the Republican governor at the time, Henry McMaster, asked HHS to create an exemption for faith-based agencies in the state that declined to place children with same-sex couples because of their religious belifes about marriage. The Trump administration issued a waiver in January 2019, categorically exempting child-placement agency policies about the religious beliefs of foster and adoptive parents—and preserving Miracle Hill’s right not to place children with same-sex couples.
But that protection is now gone.
In Thursday’s announcement proclaiming its move “to prevent discrimination and strengthen civil rights,” the agency downplayed the significance of the change. It called the waivers issued to South Carolina, Michigan, and Texas “overly broad.”
The agency, headed by Secretary Xavier Becerra, said it would return to a case-by-case evaluation of religious exemption requests. Yet it emphasized that “the waivers are inconsistent with the department’s critical goal of combating discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”
Justin Butterfield, First Liberty Institute’s deputy general counsel, said the shift endangers the ability of faith-based organizations to assist with an often overwhelmed foster care system.
“What President Biden is doing now is just another step in dismantling safeguards within the federal government for people of faith,” Butterfield said. Without categorical waivers, he added, “we’re going to be back in the days of every religious organization having to challenge HHS over every regulation that would violate their religious beliefs.”
Miracle Hill spokeswoman Yolanda Campusano said the ministry’s attorneys were still reviewing the recent action by the Biden administration. But she said they were hopeful, adding, “In the midst of all of this, we know God is faithful and, regardless of what happens, we will still serve the hurting and needy people in the upstate area.”
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