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Federal Judge Upholds State's Right to Work with Faith-Based Adoption Agencies


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A federal judge has upheld South Carolina's right to partner with faith-based foster care ministries in two separate cases. 

In both the cases Rogers v. Health and Human Services and Madonna v. Health and Human Services, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State sued Gov. Henry McMaster to try to stop South Carolina from working with religious foster agencies. 

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Joseph Dawson III, shut down both of these attempts to shutter faith-based foster care in the state, rejecting challenges to South Carolina's efforts to protect children in foster care and the families who serve them. 

These decisions will make it easier for all foster families in South Carolina to find an agency that meets their unique needs and for more foster children to find loving homes.

slider img 2The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty noted in a post on X that these two cases "are major victories for the people of South Carolina, especially children in South Carolina's foster care system. Thanks to these two court orders, faith-based agencies can continue finding loving homes for kids." 

"Plaintiffs could get the same services at 26 other private agencies in the state, including 18 in the upstate, or with the state itself," the U.S. District Court said in one of its two rulings. 

As CBN News reported in June 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Fulton v. Philadelphia that the City of Philadelphia was wrong to reject Catholic Social Services because the group said it wouldn't violate its religious beliefs about sexuality.

The city had limited ties with the Catholic agency which had declined to place children with same-sex couples.

"The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment," the high court ruled.

That Supreme Court ruling against Philadelphia is now being applied by lower courts, as in the case of South Carolina.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R). 

"These two rulings from the U.S. District Court represent significant wins for religious liberty and South Carolina's faith-based organizations like Miracle Hill, which will be able to continue their crucial mission of connecting children in foster care with loving homes," Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement. "These victories will directly benefit countless children by further ensuring that faith-based organizations will not be forced to abandon their beliefs to help provide critical services to our state's youth."
Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State criticized Judge Dawson's ruling in the Maddonna case, arguing that the Supreme Court's 2021 decision in Fulton had confused the nation's lower courts. 

"Foster care agencies working on behalf of the government should not be allowed to discriminate against prospective foster parents because they don't live according to one narrow set of conservative religious beliefs. Religious freedom can never be a license to discriminate," she said.

Laser said her organization and Maddonna were reviewing the decision and deciding if they would appeal both cases. 

McMaster was represented in the two cases by Thomas Limehouse, Grayson Lambert, and Erica Shedd with South Carolina's Office of the Governor, along with Miles Coleman of Nelson Mullins, and attorneys with Becket.

Becket Vice President and Senior Counsel Lori Windham called the judge's rulings, "A major victory for the children in South Carolina's foster care system who were at risk of losing out on loving homes."

"The attempt to shutter faith-based foster care agencies and decrease the number of foster homes for these kids violated the law and common sense. We are glad that South Carolina stood up for foster children and faith-based agencies and that the court protected them," Windham continued. 

South Carolina works directly with families seeking to foster and adopt children in crisis situations, serving children and families from all backgrounds. The state also partners with an array of private agencies that help find and support more families for foster children who need a safe place to live.

In 2018, Gov. McMaster issued an executive order that enabled Miracle Hill, a Christian adoption agency, to retain its foster care program. The private agency has been placing foster children with families for over 80 years. 

"The state finds no compelling interest in limiting faith-based organizations," McMaster's executive order said.

McMaster worked with the federal Department of Health and Human Services to obtain a waiver that ensured that these ministries could continue to work with the state to place foster children in need, according to Becket Law. 

In May 2019, the ACLU sued South Carolina and the federal government for continuing to allow Miracle Hill to place foster children with state-licensed foster families. The first case involved a lesbian couple who had been turned down by the adoption agency.  The ACLU argued South Carolina officials, in partnering with Miracle Hill, violated the Constitution's establishment and equal protection clauses, according to Deseret News

Then in December of 2019, Americans United filed a second lawsuit involving Miracle Hill, alleging the same claims.  

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of