The Biden administration has revoked a Trump-era waiver that exempted federally funded foster care providers in three states from following nondiscrimination rules.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month said it would revert to the Obama-era nondiscrimination policy in the three states — Michigan, South Carolina and Texas — bringing them back in line with the rules that apply to the rest of the states.
That means faith-based foster care providers in the three states may no longer reject would-be foster parents merely because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or religion.
HHS concluded that the waivers were “inconsistent with the department’s critical goal of combating discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”
The Trump administration based its decision to grant the waivers on its interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Under Biden, HHS will now once again consider every religious-exemption request from those states on their own merits.
“Today’s action supports the bedrock American principle and a core mission of our Department — to ensure Americans have access to quality health and human services,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a written statement. “Our action ensures we are best prepared to protect every American’s right to be free of discrimination. With the large number of discrimination claims before us, we owe it to all who come forward to act, whether to review, investigate or take appropriate measures to protect their rights. At HHS, we treat any violation of civil rights or religious freedoms seriously.”
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the City of Philadelphia had violated Catholic Social Services’ First Amendment rights by requiring the service provider to approve same-sex couples for foster parenting and adoptions. However, Christina Remlin, lead counsel for Children’s rights, said the national implications were limited.
The Trump administration’s waivers had prompted a federal lawsuit in South Carolina against the state and HHS, filed on behalf of a married LGBTQ couple who faced rejection by a child welfare agency.
Conservative religious groups condemned the change, saying faith-based foster care providers shouldn’t have to abandon their religious beliefs in order to qualify government foster care licensing and finding.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission called it “deeply troubling for faith-based organizations and people who serve communities in their states according to their religious beliefs. We need more organizations serving children in foster care, not less.”
The commission noted that there are nearly 425,000 kids in the foster system, and probably more, as the pandemic continues to take a toll on families. “At a time when children need safe, permanent, and loving homes, the government should be ensuring that more providers can serve,” the commission said.