As Americans prepare to celebrate all the things for which they’re grateful, a new announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) means that many families are once again able to look forward to providing a home to children who are awaiting foster placement.
On November 18, HHS reversed a Trump-era rule that allowed federally-funded foster care providers in three states to discriminate against prospective foster parents on the basis of religion.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) sets out a test to be applied on a case-by-case basis for institutions seeking a religious exemption waiver. The previous administration, however, sidestepped this well-established process by providing Michigan, South Carolina, and Texas with religious exemption waivers that allowed faith-based providers to closely question applicants about their religious observance, and reject parents on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This needlessly restricts the pool of prospective foster and adoptive parents, forcing vulnerable children to suffer the trauma of state care longer than necessary
Moving forward, HHS will return to its previous policy as laid out in RFRA, examining all religious exemption requests on a case-by-case basis. This decision delivers on a promise that President Biden made on inauguration day to ensure federal agencies include sexual orientation and gender identity in federal discrmination laws.
Religious freedom and nondiscrimination protections are complementary values, rooted in the fundamental principle that every person should be treated equally under the law.
The Trump Administration waivers were “inconsistent with the department’s critical goal of combating discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity,” HHS said in a statement. “HHS will not condone the blanket use of religious exemptions against any person or blank checks to allow discrimination against any persons, importantly including LGBTQ+ persons in taxpayer-funded programs.”
Every child deserves to have a family that will love and celebrate them for who they are. Taxpayer dollars should never fund institutions that exclude or discriminate against participants, especially when doing so would only exacerbate an urgent foster care crisis. Just in time for Thanksgiving, HHS is once again prioritizing the livelihoods of children and loving families of all backgrounds, rather than private religious interests.
Since its inception, Interfaith Alliance has fought to ensure that tax dollars do not fund discrimination, and that people of all identities are treated with respect within the public sphere. Learn more about our work on LGBTQ+ equality.