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Letter on Religious Discrimination in Foster Care

Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association joined more than 100 organizations in protest of the recent decision to exempt federally funded foster care agencies in South Carolina from federal religious nondiscrimination protections. The full letter to Secretary Alex Azar of the Department of Health and Human Services is attached above and reproduced in part below.


Dear Secretary Azar:
We, the undersigned members and allies of the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD), write to denounce the recent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decision to exempt federally funded foster care and adoption agencies in South Carolina from the religious nondiscrimination protections provided under 45 CFR § 75.300(c). Paradoxically, the exemption uses the concept of religious freedom as a justification for taxpayer-funded religious discrimination.
CARD is a broad and diverse group of organizations formed in the 1990s to monitor legislative and policy changes impacting government partnerships with religious and other nonprofit organizations and, in particular, to oppose government-funded religious discrimination. Our coalition members appreciate the important role religiously affiliated and other communitybased institutions historically have played in addressing many of our nation’s most pressing social needs, as a complement to government-operated programs; indeed, many members of CARD are directly involved in this work. We also recognize that the separation of church and state is the linchpin of religious freedom. In our view, effective government collaboration with faith-based groups does not require the sanctioning of federally funded religious discrimination.
This HHS decision grossly misinterprets the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), as requiring the government to allow taxpayer-funded child placement agencies to turn away potential parents and volunteers who cannot meet their religious test. For example, Miracle Hill, the agency whose policy led to the statewide exemption, made clear it would turn down a Jewish volunteer because she did not meet its religious requirements. This discriminatory policy harms children and parents and threatens core civil rights and religious freedom protections. The government should never fund religious discrimination, especially when it is vulnerable children who will pay the price.
The Exemption Harms Children and Parents
Children in foster care have been entrusted to the state for care, stability, and safety. Adoption and foster care agencies that accept government funds to serve these children have a duty to act in the best interests of each child. Using a religious litmus test to reject qualified and caring parents who want to foster and adopt, however, makes it even more difficult for these children to find a loving home. Indeed, a religious test reduces the number of qualified foster and adoptive parents who are able to open their homes to these children. We cannot allow the
religious beliefs of a government-funded agency to override the best interest of our most vulnerable children.
In addition, the exemption clearly harms potential parents who are rejected from the government program. No qualified parent should be denied the opportunity to provide a loving home to children in need because they are the “wrong” religion.
This RFRA Exemption Harms Religious Freedom
Some of us were members of the Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion, which led the effort to persuade Congress to enact RFRA; yet, we all agree that granting the requested exemption is an inappropriate use of the law. RFRA was meant to be a shield to protect religious freedom, not a sword to sanction discrimination against others. This exemption turns the original promise of RFRA on its head—it uses RFRA to disqualify individuals from participating in government programs solely because of their religion. In issuing this harmful policy, HHS ignored the state’s compelling interest in acting in the best interest of children in its care and in not discriminating against potential parents and volunteers because of their religion.
Religious freedom, which is a core American value, requires that those who perform government services must serve everyone, regardless of religion. Ensuring that taxpayerfunded child placement agencies abide by nondiscrimination laws is not hostile to religionturning away people seeking to engage in government-funded services because they fail a religious test is.
Because granting South Carolina’s request for a RFRA exemption will harm children and families and violate our nation’s fundamental protections for religious freedom, we urge you to reconsider this action.


  • African American Ministers In Action
  • AIDS United
  • Alliance of Baptists
  • American Atheists
  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • American Conference of Cantors
  • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • American Humanist Association
  • Americans United for Separation of Church and State
  • Anti-Defamation League
  • Arab American Institute
  • Athlete Ally
  • B’nai B’rith International
  • Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
  • Bend the Arc: Jewish Action
  • BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz
  • Catholics for Choice
  • Center for American Progress
  • Center for Reproductive Rights
  • Center for the Study of Social Policy
  • CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers
  • Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Child Welfare League of America
  • Children’s Defense Fund
  • Children’s Home Society of America
  • Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues
  • Congregation of Our Lady of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces
  • Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
  • DignityUSA
  • Disciples Center for Public Witness
  • Disciples Justice Action Network
  • The Episcopal Church
  • Equal Partners in Faith
  • Equality Federation
  • Family Equality Council
  • Feminist Majority Foundation
  • FORGE, Inc.
  • FosterClub
  • Franciscan Action Network
  • Freedom for All Americans
  • GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality
  • Global Faith and Justice Project
  • Global Justice Institute, Metropolitan Community Churches
  • Healthy Teen Network
  • Hindu American Foundation
  • Human Rights Campaign
  • Interfaith Alliance
  • Japanese American Citizens League
  • Jewish Council for Public Affairs
  • The Jewish Federations of North America
  • Juvenile Law Center
  • Jewish Women International
  • Keshet
  • Lambda Legal
  • The Lavender Effect
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Men of Reform Judaism
  • Methodist Federation for Social Action
  • Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers
  • Movement Advancement Project
  • Muslim Advocates
  • Muslims for Progressive Values
  • National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
  • National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)
  • National Assoc. of Counsel for Children
  • National Association of Social Workers
  • National Black Justice Coalition
  • National Center for Lesbian Rights
  • National Center for Transgender Equality
  • National Center on Adoption and Permanency
  • National Congress of Black Women, Inc.
  • National Council of Churches
  • National Council of Jewish Women
  • National Council on Independent Living (NCIL)
  • National Crittenton
  • National Employment Lawyers Association
  • National Equality Action Team (NEAT)
  • National Health Law Program
  • National LGBTQ Task Force
  • National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
  • National Network for Youth
  • National Organization for Women
  • National Partnership for Women & Families
  • National Trans Bar Association
  • National Women’s Health Network
  • National Women’s Law Center
  • NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
  • Network of Jewish Human Services Agencies
  • New Ways Ministry
  • North American Council on Adoptable Children
  • People For the American Way
  • PFLAG National
  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America
  • Population Connection Action Fund
  • Presbyterian Church USA, Washington Office of Public Witness
  • Public Justice Center
  • Reconstructing Judaism
  • Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
  • Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
  • Religious Institute
  • Secular Coalition for America
  • Secular Policy Institute
  • Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)
  • Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE)
  • Southern Poverty Law Center
  • T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
  • True Colors Fund
  • Union for Reform Judaism
  • Unitarian Universalist Association
  • United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
  • United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
  • Uri L’Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice
  • Voice for Adoption
  • Witness to Mass Incarceration
  • Women of Reform Judaism
  • YATOM: The Jewish Foster & Adoption Network
  • Youth Dynamics, Inc.

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