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Christian Foster Care Reopens Debate On Religious Freedom And Government

A woman holds a bible as she prays on the front steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
A woman holds a bible as she prays on the front steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

A South Carolina ministry’s Christian-only foster care policy is the latest flashpoint in the debate over religious freedom and government social services. We’ll take it up.


Laura Meckler, Washington Post reporter. ( @laurameckler)

Robin Fretwell Wilson, professor of law at the University of Illinois College of Law ( @UIllinoisLaw ) , director of the Program in Family Law and Policy. (@RobinFretwell)

Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans ( @OrphanAlliance). Head of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives during the George W. Bush administration. He and his wife have adopted and fostered children.

Maggie Garrett, vice president for public policy for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. ( @maggiefgarrett)

Statement from Miracle Hill Ministries provided to On Point :

At the heart of this controversy is whether or not Miracle Hill’s foster care program has the right to exist, with or without government funding.  We are under threat of losing our license unless we abandon our religious convictions.  We are deeply concerned that Miracle Hill Ministries and other faith-based organizations like ours will be shut out of the system, thereby worsening the foster care crisis in our nation. Those who oppose our existence argue that we prevent people from fostering.   This is simply not true. Our existence as a foster care agency does not prevent anyone from fostering.  We are not the sole provider for the state of South Carolina.  Anyone who wishes to foster can do so through their local office of the South Carolina Department of Social Services. Miracle Hill and the many other private, non-profit agencies that recruit and support foster families in South Carolina  increase foster care opportunities, not diminish.

Miracle Hill is a Christian ministry whose mission is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ while meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of homeless children and adults, and we’ve been doing so for more than 80 years. We serve  all people who come to us for help, regardless of whether or not they embrace our faith.  Those who serve with us, however, in positions of spiritual leadership or authority, (including foster parents and mentors)  must share our beliefs because they are partners with us in ministry. We can’t share the Good News if the people who serve with us don’t  believe the Good News. It is our hope and prayer that our government will wisely choose to protect the religious liberty of faith-based organizations that are compassionately serving the vulnerable and hurting in our country.

Our Q&A With Miracle Hill Ministries

It is reported that Miracle Hill requires a signed statement of faith to participate in its foster program. A spokeswoman for South Carolina social services says Miracle Hill is the only organization that insists foster parents share its faith. Would the organization be willing to eliminate requiring the signed statement? If not, why not?

“We do not require a signed statement of faith. What we do ask for is that prospective foster parents share with us their church affiliation and also their personal testimony of their faith/salvation. Our mission statement says “Miracle Hill exists that homeless children and adults receive food and shelter with compassion, hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, and move toward healthy relationships and stability.” Those who serve with Miracle Hill must support our mission, which includes sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with those they minister to.”

In the statement you sent to us, you write: “We can’t share the Good News if the people who serve with us don’t believe the Good News.” Can you please elaborate on why Miracle Hill believes sharing “the Good News” is an important requirement for the care of foster children?

“As a Christian ministry we take a holistic approach to serving people who are wounded and hurting and in need of healing (including foster children who have experienced trauma). That includes ministering to their spiritual needs.  We share the hope and healing that can come through faith in Jesus Christ. Not everyone will accept or believe in the Gospel, and that’s ok. We will still serve and love them in the name of Jesus Christ. But it is inherently a part of our mission to share the Good News with them.”

From The Reading List

Washington Post: “ A Christian ministry won’t change its Christians-only criteria for foster-care parents. Is that okay with Trump?” — “The Miracle Hill Ministries in Greenville, S.C., makes clear from the start that only Christian parents need apply for its foster-care program. On its forms, candidates are asked to offer personal testimony of their faith or salvation.

“‘Our existence and identity is tied to our faith in God and belief in Jesus Christ,’ said Reid Lehman, Miracle Hill’s president and chief executive. He said the ministry would drop out of the foster-care program rather than work with parents who aren’t Christian.

“That policy, in place for 30 years, runs counter to an Obama-era regulation barring religious discrimination in the federally funded foster-care program. Now, with Miracle Hill’s funding threatened, the Trump administration is being asked by the governor of South Carolina to let Miracle Hill participate anyway.

“It’s the latest clash in a long-running debate over religious freedom and government social services, as three successive administrations have considered how much religion is too much religion when agencies are collecting taxpayer funds. The Trump administration’s response in the South Carolina case will signal whether it will adhere to modest limits imposed by the Bush and Obama administrations or whether it will allow religious entities a freer hand.

“It also represents a test of the Obama policy, put into place in the final days of that administration. The fact that the Trump administration has yet to give South Carolina an answer suggests the question may be a difficult one even for some conservatives.”

CNN: “ A religious freedom battleground” — “Kristy and Dana Dumont are ready to be parents. But their efforts to start a family have put them at the center of the latest battleground in the religious freedom debate.

“The Michigan couple has been together for 12 years and married for seven. Both women have stable careers and loving families. They want to share their good fortune with children in state foster care with the goal of adopting. They even bought a new home in a good school district and two extra bedrooms in Lansing’s suburbs to prepare.

“But when the Dumonts contacted two child welfare agencies in 2016 and 2017 to become certified foster parents, they say the agencies told them they don’t work with same-sex couples, citing religious beliefs.

“‘They just didn’t get to know us at all. It was just one little thing — that we’re two women together — and that was it,’ Kristy Dumont said.

“Michigan is one of 10 states that allow child welfare agencies to act in accordance with their religious beliefs, even if those beliefs mean refusing to work with same-sex couples. In all but one of those states — Alabama — the laws protect organizations that receive taxpayer funds to perform services on the state’s behalf, such as screening prospective parents to care for foster children or finding homes for foster children.

“Supporters of the laws say they are necessary to ensure that faith-based child welfare agencies can keep their doors open and help children in need. They point out that the laws do not prevent same-sex couples from fostering or adopting through other child welfare agencies, including religious groups that do not object to same-sex relationships.”

Wall Street Journal: “ Clash Over Same-Sex Adoption Heads to Court” — “A federal judge is poised to rule on whether an evangelical adoption agency in central New York state that receives no government funding can refuse to place children with same-sex couples despite a five-year-old antidiscrimination law.

“New Hope Family Services, an evangelical adoption agency based in Syracuse that for decades has refused to place children with same-sex couples, recently drew a warning from child-welfare officials who gave New Hope until December to agree to accept gay applicants or face closure.

“That ultimatum has turned into litigation.

“New Hope is suing the state in federal court, asserting it has a religious right under the First Amendment to turn away gay and lesbian couples applying to adopt children. The judge’s ruling could potentially set a legal precedent. At least eight states have antidiscrimination rules for adoptions like the one in New York.”

Brian Hardzinski produced this hour for broadcast.

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