A federally funded Christian foster agency in South Carolina has decided to open its doors to prospective foster parents and employees who aren’t evangelical Protestants ― but the organization’s ban on working with people who are LGBTQ, progressive Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or from other faiths remains intact.
Greenville’s Miracle Hill Ministries, the state’s largest foster care organization for children who don’t have significant special needs, previously had strict rules about only hiring and working with foster parents and volunteers who subscribe to a set of conservative evangelical principles. In practice, that meant even Catholics were reportedly rejected by the ministry.
Last week, the organization announced that, “for the sake of unity among followers of Jesus Christ,” it was tweaking its policies to welcome Catholics and other Christians who affirm its doctrinal statement as employees and foster parents.
“For Miracle Hill, embracing Christians who share our beliefs simplifies our affiliation process while protecting core values and doctrinal consistency,” Miracle Hill’s president, Reid Lehman, said in a statement. “It’s the right thing to do.”
The organization’s policy change appears to have been partly prompted by a federal lawsuit filed against it in February by a Catholic mother who claimed she was turned away from volunteering at Miracle Hill as a mentor because of her Catholic faith.
Lehman said the organization recognizes that “our previous stance has wounded other followers of Jesus Christ.”
Even with the policy change, there are still many Christians who would presumably still not be allowed to work with Miracle Hill. Its doctrinal statement expresses conservative Christian beliefs about marriage and gender identity that may not be shared by Christians from mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopal Church or the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The organization’s ability to discriminate against prospective parents who don’t subscribe to its theology has been affirmed by President Donald Trump’s administration. The Department of Health and Human Services issued a waiver in January that allows Miracle Hill and other faith-based foster care agencies in South Carolina to turn away foster parents based on religious criteria.
In May, a lesbian couple sued the HHS and South Carolina’s government over the waiver, claiming that Miracle Hill should not be able to discriminate against people based on faith or sexual orientation.
The Anti-Defamation League has spoken up against Miracle Hill’s policies in press statements and recently before the House Education and Labor Committee. David L. Barkey, the Jewish advocacy organization’s national religious freedom counsel, told HuffPost that he believes taxpayer-funded organizations should not be allowed to use religion as a basis to discriminate against Jews, LGBTQ people or anyone else.
“For adoption and foster care agencies the only criteria that should matter is whether a person is qualified, ready and willing to provide a loving home to a child in need,” Barkey said.
Miracle Hill has long argued that folks who disagree with its stances should simply go to another foster care agency in the state.
“If anyone ― Jewish, Muslim, atheist, any religion or no religion said ‘I want to foster a child’ and they looked like a healthy person, we would try to help them find someone to take them through the licensing process because kids need it,” Lehman told the Greenville News in January.
But Barkey compared this line of thinking to the faith-based arguments some businesses made after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, to deny service to African Americans.
“Such a justification was both legally and morally wrong then, as it is now,” he said.