A lesbian couple from South Carolina is challenging the state's practice of letting taxpayer-funded foster care agencies reject prospective parents who don't share their religious beliefs.
According to reports, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a waiver in January to support this practice. The January waiver, according to CNN, lets federally funded child welfare agencies in the state refuse to perform services that conflict with their religious values. And because of this, Eden Rogers and Brandy Welch claim that a faith-based agency turned them away when they tried to become foster parents in April.
The couple sued the foster care agency on Thursday, accusing the state and the Donald Trump administration of violating their constitutional rights by letting agencies use religious criteria to screen out would-be foster families.
The lawsuit comes shortly after the debate over religious exemptions and "conscience protections" in health care and other areas.
Those opposed to the waiver call it a state-sponsored discrimination that targets non-Christians and the LGBTQ community. However, the administration argues that these measures have been put in place so that faith-based organizations operate without compromising their beliefs.
The couple's lawsuit seeks to rescind the waiver, and also asks for a permanent injunction that would prevent the state from contracting with or licensing agencies that discriminate against prospective foster parents based on their religion, sex, sexual orientation or marital status as same-sex couples.
"Faith is a part of our family life, so it is hurtful and insulting to us that Miracle Hill's religious view of what a family must look like deprives foster children of a nurturing, supportive home," Welch said in a statement issued by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the couple along with Lambda Legal and the South Carolina Equality Coalition Inc.
The lawsuit names as defendants HHS and its Administration for Children and Families division, which issued the waiver; Gov. Henry McMaster, who requested the waiver; and the state Department of Social Services. Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary for HHS' Administration for Children and Families, cited the need for more families in the foster care system as a reason for the agency granting the state's request, according to a statement in January.
"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. It protects minors who are in need of as many options as possible for being placed in loving foster families," the statement added.
The couple's lawsuit charges that the waiver achieves the opposite by excluding prospective parents when demand exceeds supply. "Defendants' actions have created a public child welfare system in South Carolina, funded by taxpayer dollars, in which the suitability of prospective foster parents is assessed based on religious requirements," the lawsuit claims.
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