Lesbian Couple Sues South Carolina, Trump Administration Over Foster Care Requirements

A lesbian couple, Eden Rogers and Brandy Welch, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration and the state of South Carolina, in response to being turned away by a Christian foster care agency for failing to meet its religious criteria.

When Rogers and Welch first inquired with Greenville-based Miracle Hill Ministries, they were instructed to read about the agency on its website and complete an online application if they were still interested.

According to the lawsuit, the online application form requires prospective parents to indicate whether they agree with Miracle Hill’s doctrinal statement, which reads: “God’s design for marriage is the legal joining of one man and one woman in a life-long covenant relationship. God creates each person as either male or female, and these two distinct, complementary sexes, together reflect the image and nature of God.”

Rogers said she and Welch knew Miracle Hill was a Christian ministry but were surprised when they were quickly denied after identifying themselves as a same-sex couple and members of the Unitarian Universalist Church.

In an email to the couple, Miracle Hill officials wrote that they “feel a religious obligation” to partner with foster parents who share their beliefs and who are active in a Christian church.

Reid Lehman, president and chief executive of Miracle Hill Ministries, said the agency encouraged Rogers and Welch to volunteer in other ways with its ministry, and provided information of several other foster agencies in the area “that will partner with any qualified individual or couple.”

“Faith-based foster care agencies are working hard to end the foster care crisis and should be allowed to participate in the child welfare system while maintaining their religious convictions and practices,” Lehman said in a statement. “It is in the best interest of South Carolina’s children to allow as many unique foster care agencies as possible to increase the pool of available foster homes.”

Miracle Hill isn’t named in the lawsuit; rather, the suit targets the agencies that granted a religious exemption waiver and issued Miracle Hill’s foster care license.

Last year on behalf of Miracle Hill, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster sought a waiver from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to continue its faith-based foster care program. The waiver was requested to head off Miracle Hill losing its license and federal funding under a regulation the Obama administration implemented. HHS granted the waiver in January.

“Governor McMaster’s position has nothing to do with keeping anyone from fostering children and has everything to do with protecting Miracle Hill’s ability to exercise its own religious freedom,” said Brian Symms, McMaster’s spokesman.

As a condition of the waiver, HHS requires federally funded faith-based groups to refer any potential foster care families that they do not accept to other placement agencies or to Social Services.

Photo: Religion News Service/Yonat Shimron