South Carolina’s Republican governor has asked a federal court to protect the state’s right to partner with faith-based foster care groups to provide homes for children in need.
Gov. Henry McMaster sent a letter following a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the governor seeking to penalize the state’s work with religious foster agencies.
“Over 3,500 of South Carolina’s children are currently in foster care and we need all the help we can get to see that they are placed in loving homes,” McMaster said in the letter.
“This lawsuit is a shortsighted attack against every South Carolinian’s constitutionally-protected religious liberty. We will continue to fight against any attempt to stop our private partners from being able to help provide these critical services simply because they choose to do so in accordance with their faith,” he added.
South Carolina’s Department of Social Services works directly with families seeking to foster and adopt children in crisis. McMaster issued an executive order in 2018 to protect the religious freedom of foster agencies, including Miracle Hill Ministries, which chooses to partner with families that share its Christian faith.
Becket Law, the legal group representing Miracle Hill’s 80-year tradition of recruiting and serving families, claims the ACLU used social media to recruit individuals who did not share Miracle Hill’s faith to apply to foster with the agency. The ACLU sued South Carolina and the federal government, alleging that allowing Miracle Hill to serve foster families violated the law.
“Faith-based agencies are effective at placing children in loving homes, and the Supreme Court unanimously protected their rights,” said Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “This attempt to shutter faith-based agencies means fewer choices for foster parents and fewer homes for kids. South Carolina decided it could do better, and it shouldn’t be hauled into court for doing the right thing.”
Becket noted in a statement that the Supreme Court recently affirmed in Fulton v. Philadelphia to protect Catholic Social Services’ right to stick to its religious beliefs and continue serving foster children in Philadelphia. South Carolina licenses many private agencies seeking to help children in need while also protecting the religious freedom of the people of South Carolina.
Miles Coleman, a partner at Nelson Mullins, also joined in the statement from Becket.
“South Carolina’s efforts to protect all avenues of foster care should be applauded, not forced into a courtroom,” Mullins said. “Too many places around the country have shuttered religious foster care agencies, making it harder to find children a home. South Carolina is doing all it can to prevent that.”
The controversy involving Miracle Hill has been the focus of legal conflict since 2018. Four years ago, the ministry was criticized for refusing to work with LGBTQ volunteers while still receiving state funding.
The lawsuit from the ACLU was first launched in 2019 in Rogers v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services et al.