Wow. Just wow. The reality of what “religious liberty” means in the eyes of the American Christian right continues to come into sharper focus. As the good people at People for the American Way report, the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services has granted a waiver to the state of South Carolina so that it can dispense taxpayer dollars to a “child welfare agency” that refuses to place foster children in any homes that do not share the group’s Christian evangelical views. Peter Montgomery of PFAW’s Right Wing Watch has the details:
In a move that brought a startling clarity to the end game for “religious liberty” claims made by Religious Right political and legal groups, the Department of Health and Human Services last week granted a waiver from federal non-discrimination rules to South Carolina, allowing the state to continue funneling tax dollars to Miracle Hill, a child welfare agency that refuses to place foster children with Jewish or Catholic families—or anyone who doesn’t share Miracle Hill’s conservative evangelical religious doctrine. The waiver also applies to all other South Carolina faith-based foster care agencies.
“Under Miracle Hill’s policies, not only Jews are rejected” as potential mentors and foster parents, reported the Religion News Service. “Muslims, Hindus and atheists are also barred from fostering or mentoring children in the nonprofit’s programs; so too are Catholics.” Don’t even ask about same-sex couples, even if they’re Protestant. Miracle Hill has reportedly received millions of dollars from the state and federal governments….
In pushing for broad religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws, Religious Right groups have almost always made gay people and same-sex couples the bad guys—the ones religious social service agencies and business owners don’t want to be “forced” to serve. The idea that businesses could use the same principle to return to a time when it was legal to discriminate against, say, interfaith couples, is no longer theoretical.
Allowing this kind of discrimination with tax dollars is a huge change. Federal civil rights rules have at times allowed religiously affiliated social service agencies to restrict staff hiring to people with similar religious beliefs. But that rule has never applied to the provision of services with taxpayer money. In other words, a church-affiliated charity that gets government funding to help feed or house poor people may be able to hire only Christian staff, but it couldn’t—at least up to now—feed only the right kind of Christian poor people.
Montgomery goes on to report that the authors of this policy are defending it, perversely, as somehow validating “religious freedom.” here’s the conclusion:
The Trump administration’s move makes both state and federal governments complicit in explicit discrimination against non-Christians and Christians who don’t meet conservative evangelicals’ approval. The Anti-Defamation League has rightly called it a “dangerous precedent.” That’s especially true in an era in which Christian nationalists and dominionists are committed to building more political power.
The Department of Health and Human Services was a top takeover target for Religious Right groups who helped put Trump in the White House. The new waiver is just the latest sign of the extraordinary and damaging influence on policy that Religious Right activists have in the Trump administration.
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