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The Biden administration has revoked Trump-era waivers that allowed taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies to override non-discrimination rules when they conflicted with providers’ religious beliefs. This move came after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it would reinstitute an Obama-era nondiscrimination policy in three states that had sought and been granted waivers: Michigan, South Carolina, and Texas. This means that foster care providers in these states can no longer turn away would-be foster parents because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion.
Members of the Interfaith Coalition for Children’s Rights issued the following statements in response:
“The Biden administration has taken a critical step on behalf of the 400,000 children in foster care in the United States. The Trump administration waivers allowed government-funded discrimination that risked hurting the most vulnerable children among us,” said Christina Remlin, Lead Counsel, Children’s Rights. “HHS is right to enforce non-discrimination policies that promote fairness for everyone who steps up to help foster children–and for the children themselves.”
“These waivers were based on a deeply misguided and detrimental understanding of religious freedom,” said the Hon. Ruth Messinger, Social Justice Activist and Consultant. “State-sanctioned discrimination has no place at any level of government, especially when it threatens to make it even harder for our nation’s children to find safe and loving homes.”
“This is a fundamental step toward stopping a rising threat to the well-being of foster children: federal and state governments using ‘religious freedom’ to justify discriminatory policies that could limit the number of available foster homes,” said Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President, Union Theological Seminary. “Our faith traditions teach us that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and that we should extend a helping hand to those less fortunate among us.”
“No state agency, other institution, or person should have the right to discriminate on the basis of faith, sexual orientation, or gender identity. When so many kids are in need of loving homes, which has only been heightened since the start of the pandemic, federal and state policies should encourage placing children with safe and caring families, and religious leaders should prompt them to do so. This announcement is a step in the right direction,” said Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean, Episcopal Divinity School at Union.
“We must continue to protect the rights of people who are eager to provide safe and loving homes for children in foster care, not turn them away under a religious litmus test,” said Rabbi Philip “Flip” Rice, Congregation Micah. “Revoking this waiver is a step toward taking better care of our children.”
“This waiver used a false idea of ‘religious liberty’ to justify discrimination on the basis of faith. We can and must do better, especially for children in the foster care system,” said Dr. C. Colt Anderson, Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education, Fordham University.
“These waivers fly in the face of our mission to protect and advance human rights,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. “We commend the Biden administration for taking this step to stand up to bigotry and hatred and ensure foster children can be welcomed into the homes they so desperately need.”
“Our nation’s child welfare programs help advance the common good by providing resources and care to people in need. No one should be turned away because of whom they love or what they believe–we commend HHS for recognizing this fundamental right,” said Rev. Susannah Davis, Senior Minister, Kirkwood United Church of Christ.
“As Jews, we must speak out against any attempt to use a religious litmus test to undermine minority religion and LGBTQ+ rights, especially when it hurts our children,” said Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann, SAJ: Judaism That Stands for All. “That’s why HHS’s announcement is a great step forward.”
“Government contractors cannot choose whom to serve based on religious criteria,” said attorney Joshua Houston, Advocacy Director, Texas Impact. “Taxpayer-funded discrimination creates special rights for faith-based contractors to the detriment of children.”
Rev. Dr. Chloe Breyer, ED, The Interfaith Center of New York, said, “Religious diversity, and the practice of engaging people of different faiths (or none at all), is central not only to our work, but also to the betterment of society as a whole. HHS’s announcement helps make that more of a reality for children in the child welfare system and for would-be foster parents.”
“Allowing taxpayer-funded agencies to discriminate against religious and other minorities is clearly unlawful and risks harm to the very children they are supposed to protect,” said Steven M. Freeman, Vice President, Civil Rights, Anti-Defamation League. “Prospective foster parents and mentors should not be rejected because they are Jewish or Catholic or LGBTQ+, as happened in South Carolina. It was high time for these waivers to be rescinded.”
The Interfaith Coalition for Children’s Rights includes Children’s Rights; Hon. Ruth Messinger, Social Justice Activist and Consultant; Union Theological Seminary; Episcopal Divinity School at Union; the Anti-Defamation League; Rabbi Steve Gutow, Visiting Scholar, The Wagner School, NYU; Fordham University; Kirkwood United Church of Christ; T’ruah; St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church; The Interfaith Center of New York; SAJ: Judaism That Stands for All; Texas Impact; and Congregation Micah.
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Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.