January 2022 Church & State Magazine | AU Bulletin

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in November rescinded exemptions granted by the Trump administration under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that allowed child welfare providers to use religion to discriminate against potential foster parents.

The waivers had been granted to foster care providers in South Carolina, Michigan and Texas. They were designed to allow religious providers to reject prospective parents who can’t pass a religious litmus test, while still contracting with the federal government and receiving taxpayer funds.

Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, praised the move.

“Today the Biden administration took important strides to restore religious freedom, which was repeatedly undermined by the Trump administration. Our nation promises everyone the freedom to believe as they want, but our laws cannot allow anyone to use their religious beliefs to harm others,” Laser said. 

She added, “Rescinding these damaging Trump waivers is a critical first step. The Department of Health and Human Services 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. This includes people like our client Aimee Maddonna – a Catholic mother of three who was rejected by a federally funded foster care agency in South Carolina because she’s the ‘wrong’ religion. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was never intended to be used to allow discrimination against participants in government-funded programs or to grant sweeping exemptions to social service providers to ignore civil rights laws. 

“The Biden administration deserves credit for today’s actions, but there still is much work to do. Religious freedom is a shield that ensures everyone is treated equally under the law, not a license to cause harm. There are still federal policies in place that allow the use of religion to discriminate, including with respect to foster care. We urge the administration to fix other dangerous policies in order to uphold this fundamental principle.”