The Biden administration Thursday said it would rescind religious-freedom protections granted to child welfare agencies and require them to place children with LGBTQ families and to people of other faiths.
The move will “further civil rights and equal opportunity for all people, irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion,” according to a press statement from the Department of Health and Human Services.
The waivers — granted under President Trump to the states of Michigan, South Carolina, and Texas and to select child welfare agencies in those states — had dropped nondiscrimination requirements based on religious objections, HHS said.
The agency’s announcement said such waivers are “inconsistent” with the Biden-era HHS department’s “critical goal of combating discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”
The Trump-era rules, critics claimed, allowed the child welfare agencies to enforce various rules supporting the agency’s particular beliefs.
Greenville, South Carolina-based Miracle Hill Ministries, for example, would only allow evangelical Protestants to work as volunteer mentors or serve as foster parents.
In 2019, Miracle Hill said it would work with Catholic or Orthodox Christian families that align with its doctrinal statement, a move that came after a Catholic woman sued President Trump and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster over the waivers.
“Today’s action supports the bedrock American principle and a core mission of our Department — to ensure Americans have access to quality health and human services,” HHS secretary Xavier Becerra said in Thursday’s statement.
“Our action ensures we are best prepared to protect every American’s right to be free of discrimination,” he added.
Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which opposed the waivers, said in a statement that HHS “should never allow taxpayer-funded foster care agencies to apply a religious litmus test to discriminate against Catholic, Jewish, LGBTQ and other families who want to help children who are in foster care.”
Americans United filed the South Carolina lawsuit on behalf of Aimee Maddonna, a Roman Catholic and a mother of three who wanted to volunteer at Miracle Hill but was turned away because of her church affiliation.
South Carolina’s waiver was also challenged by Lambda Legal, a public interest group advocating for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender people.
They sued on behalf of same-sex couple Eden Rogers and Brand Welch, whom Miracle Hill also turned away as potential foster parents.
Lambda Legal cited several other HHS-related rules they claim disfavor gays, and in a statement said they would continue to fight these provisions.
“HHS is still not rigorously enforcing non-discrimination requirements that are critical to protect vulnerable LGBTQ young people, seniors, and others who need its assistance,” Kevin Jennings, Lambda Legal CEO said. “Our work will continue until every LGBTQ person can access federally-funded services without fear of discrimination.”