Health Department grants foster care agency religious exemption license to discriminate

Zack Ford Editor, Think Progress LGBT

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a waiver to a South Carolina foster care agency, granting it a blanket license to discriminate based on its religious beliefs. Miracle Hill Ministries refuses to partner with any foster parents that do not share its protestant Christian beliefs, having previously turned away Jewish and same-sex couples.

When Beth Lesser and her husband moved to South Carolina, they completed training and background checks to become foster parents. Though Miracle Hill assisted with her training, it refused to invite her to work with the agency because she is Jewish. In 2017, she filed a complaint with the state Department of Social Services (DSS), which responded by downgrading Miracle Hill’s license to provide foster care services.

Gov. Henry McMaster (R) then came to Miracle Hill’s defense, assuring the agency he was going to work with federal officials to seek a waiver. Earlier this month, House committee chairs Robert Scott (D-VA) and Richard Neal (D-MA) urged HHS Secretary Alex Azar to deny the request, but this week the agency confirmed that Miracle Hill can refuse service however its religious beliefs dictate.

The waiver is an exception to a rule put in place by the Obama administration barring child placement agencies that receive public funding from discriminating. Despite the waiver, HHS has so far not taken the step of attempting to overturn the rule.

Not only has Miracle Hill previously refused to serve Jewish families, it also refers same-sex couples to other agencies. According to its CEO, Reid Lehman, “God’s design for marriage is the legal joining of one man and one woman in a life-long covenant relationship.” The agency also requires employees to adhere to the same religious beliefs.

In several states, the debate over whether Christian adoption and foster care agencies should have to serve same-sex couples has prompted legislation granting them a “license to discriminate,” even if they receive state funding. Last year, for example, both Kansas and Oklahoma passed such laws within days of each other.

The ACLU is currently challenging Michigan’s version of the law on the basis that the state is allowing a religious agency to employ religious criteria to perform a public function in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Last year, a Catholic adoption agency in Philadelphia challenged the city’s enforcement of its LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, but did not prevail in court. Justice Brett Kavanaugh had not yet been seated on the Supreme Court, which was divided on providing the agency relief.

Conservatives argue that agencies that serve specific religious populations are able to recruit more foster and adoptive agencies. This doesn’t really make sense considering it means turning away many capable parents. It also suggests that some families are only taking in children for the opportunity to indoctrinate them with their beliefs, which would include their anti-LGBTQ beliefs.

LGBTQ children are over-represented in the foster care system, so the more a state’s child placement services are controlled by anti-LGBTQ agencies, the more susceptible those children are to being placed with families that will reject them for who they are. Research has repeatedly shown that family acceptance is one of the most significant factors in promoting positive health outcomes in LGBTQ kids.

The HHS waiver follows the Trump administration’s repeated insistence that “religious freedom” is the highest priority when agencies respond to discrimination concerns — to the exception, in particular, of LGBTQ protections.

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Reposted from ThinkProgress

Zack Ford is the editor of ThinkProgress LGBT at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, hailing from the small town of Newport, PA. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Zack blogged for two years at ZackFordBlogs.com with occasional cross-posts at Pam’s House Blend. He also co-hosts a popular LGBT-issues podcast called Queer and Queerer with activist and performance artist Peterson Toscano. A graduate of Ithaca College (B.M. Music Education) and Iowa State University (M.Ed. Higher Education), Zack is an accomplished pianist with a passion for social justice education. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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A Friendly Reminder

A Friendly Reminder