Evangelical foster care agency expands program to include Catholics amid lawsuit over state funding  

Staff from Miracle Hill Foster Care in Greenville, S.C., recruits foster families.
Staff from Miracle Hill Foster Care in Greenville, S.C., recruits foster families. | Photo: Facebook

An evangelical Christian nonprofit that is South Carolina's largest adoption agency and only places children with Christian families recently announced its decision to expand its foster program to include Catholics.

Earlier this month, Miracle Hill Ministries announced that it was officially clarifying that Roman Catholics who affirm the nonprofit’s statement of faith can serve as foster parents or employees. 

Reid Lehman, president and CEO of Miracle Hill, said in the announcement that they “recognize our previous stance has wounded other followers of Jesus Christ.”

“Our calling as an organization is not primarily to evaluate and emphasize differences between various branches of Christianity or between denominations within Protestantism,” stated Lehman.

“Rather, Miracle Hill’s spiritual identity is first and foremost that of brothers and sisters in Christ working together to minister to the needy in Christ’s name.”

Miracle Hill’s decision comes amid a legal battle over whether the Christian nonprofit should have been given a waiver for state funding from the Department of Health and Human Services.

In January, HHS’ Administration for Children and Families sent a letter to South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster saying they believed forcing Miracle Hill to follow federal anti-discrimination policy would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“Miracle Hill’s sincere religious exercise would be substantially burdened by application of the religious nondiscrimination requirement,” read the letter in part.

“… subjecting Miracle Hill to that requirement, by denying South Carolina’s exception request, is not the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling government interest on the part of HHS.”

In February, Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit on behalf of Aimee Maddonna against HHS and South Carolina over the decision to grant the waiver.

Maddonna claimed that Miracle Hill did not allow her to volunteer or foster children when they learned that she was a practicing Catholic.

“Mrs. Maddonna clearly understood that she and her family were ineligible to be trained by or receive placements from Miracle Hill because they are Catholic,” argued the lawsuit.

“Because of the religious requirements that Miracle Hill inserts into its provision of foster-care services, the Maddonnas were prevented from becoming a foster family or even volunteering to work with foster children.”

For its part, Americans United has decided to continue its legal action over the waiver, explaining in an email on Monday that the nonprofit inclusion of Catholics was not enough.

“To be clear, the taxpayer-funded foster care agency still requires applicants to sign a doctrinal statement of faith,” stated Liz Hayes of Americans United in the email.

“Not only does this mean that a government service provider still requires a religious litmus test for prospective parents, but the statement of faith does not align with Aimee’s religious beliefs and therefore she cannot sign it.”  

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