Health Department grants foster care agency religious exemption license to discriminate

Zack Ford Editor, Think Progress LGBT

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a waiver to a South Carolina foster care agency, granting it a blanket license to discriminate based on its religious beliefs. Miracle Hill Ministries refuses to partner with any foster parents that do not share its protestant Christian beliefs, having previously turned away Jewish and same-sex couples.

When Beth Lesser and her husband moved to South Carolina, they completed training and background checks to become foster parents. Though Miracle Hill assisted with her training, it refused to invite her to work with the agency because she is Jewish. In 2017, she filed a complaint with the state Department of Social Services (DSS), which responded by downgrading Miracle Hill’s license to provide foster care services.

Gov. Henry McMaster (R) then came to Miracle Hill’s defense, assuring the agency he was going to work with federal officials to seek a waiver. Earlier this month, House committee chairs Robert Scott (D-VA) and Richard Neal (D-MA) urged HHS Secretary Alex Azar to deny the request, but this week the agency confirmed that Miracle Hill can refuse service however its religious beliefs dictate.

The waiver is an exception to a rule put in place by the Obama administration barring child placement agencies that receive public funding from discriminating. Despite the waiver, HHS has so far not taken the step of attempting to overturn the rule.

Not only has Miracle Hill previously refused to serve Jewish families, it also refers same-sex couples to other agencies. According to its CEO, Reid Lehman, “God’s design for marriage is the legal joining of one man and one woman in a life-long covenant relationship.” The agency also requires employees to adhere to the same religious beliefs.

In several states, the debate over whether Christian adoption and foster care agencies should have to serve same-sex couples has prompted legislation granting them a “license to discriminate,” even if they receive state funding. Last year, for example, both Kansas and Oklahoma passed such laws within days of each other.

The ACLU is currently challenging Michigan’s version of the law on the basis that the state is allowing a religious agency to employ religious criteria to perform a public function in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Last year, a Catholic adoption agency in Philadelphia challenged the city’s enforcement of its LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, but did not prevail in court. Justice Brett Kavanaugh had not yet been seated on the Supreme Court, which was divided on providing the agency relief.

Conservatives argue that agencies that serve specific religious populations are able to recruit more foster and adoptive agencies. This doesn’t really make sense considering it means turning away many capable parents. It also suggests that some families are only taking in children for the opportunity to indoctrinate them with their beliefs, which would include their anti-LGBTQ beliefs.

LGBTQ children are over-represented in the foster care system, so the more a state’s child placement services are controlled by anti-LGBTQ agencies, the more susceptible those children are to being placed with families that will reject them for who they are. Research has repeatedly shown that family acceptance is one of the most significant factors in promoting positive health outcomes in LGBTQ kids.

The HHS waiver follows the Trump administration’s repeated insistence that “religious freedom” is the highest priority when agencies respond to discrimination concerns — to the exception, in particular, of LGBTQ protections.

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Reposted from ThinkProgress

Zack Ford is the editor of ThinkProgress LGBT at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, hailing from the small town of Newport, PA. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Zack blogged for two years at ZackFordBlogs.com with occasional cross-posts at Pam’s House Blend. He also co-hosts a popular LGBT-issues podcast called Queer and Queerer with activist and performance artist Peterson Toscano. A graduate of Ithaca College (B.M. Music Education) and Iowa State University (M.Ed. Higher Education), Zack is an accomplished pianist with a passion for social justice education. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work