The leader of a Christian-only foster care agency in South Carolina said he is willing to give up state and federal funding if government officials insist they go against their religious convictions in order to access funds.
“Our existence and identity is tied to our faith in God and belief in Jesus Christ,” Reid Lehman of Miracle Hill Ministries told The Washington Post. Miracle Hill runs the Christian-only foster care agency as well as other social programs aimed at helping children and adults in need.
“Over 2,000 children are in foster care in the Upstate of South Carolina, and because of a shortage of foster homes, hundreds more children are waiting, in need of a foster home. Miracle Hill has made it our mission to find Christian foster parents. Being a resource foster parent is a tremendous blessing and directly answers God’s call in James 1:27,” the Miracle Hill website says.
According to The Washington Post, Miracle Hill received nearly $600,000 in state and federal money in the last fiscal year to support foster-care families, but Lehman said he would rather drop out of those government programs to pursue the policy they have instituted since 1988.
Calls to Miracle Hill Ministries for further comment on Lehman’s statement were not immediately returned on Tuesday. But in a Facebook post last month, the organization made it clear that they believe there is “an alarming trend that is threatening faith-based social service providers across the nation.”
The agency was threatened with being shut down nearly a year ago for its Christian-only foster care policy after they turned away a Jewish woman, named Beth Lesser, and her husband.
“I was the only Jewish person there,” Lesser told Jewish interest publication the Forward. “It was humiliating to be told essentially Christians over here, Jews over there.”
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has sought to get an exemption for Miracle Hill from state and federal policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion and other factors from the Department of Health and Human Services, but the agency is yet to make a decision.
An HHS spokesman told The Washington Post the issue was one of “religious freedom,” and signaled that the federal agency was open to allowing the funding.
“The request from the governor of South Carolina on religious freedom and foster care agencies has been received by HHS and is currently under consideration,” he said.
In other areas such as Philadelphia, the city removed Catholic Social Services from their foster-care program because the agency does not license same-sex couples. That decision is being challenged in court.
The American Civil Liberties Union is also suing Michigan over its policy of contracting with child-placement agencies that turn away gay and lesbian couples who wish to become foster or adoptive parents due to religious conviction.
“States have an obligation to care for children in the public child-welfare system,” Leslie Cooper, an ACLU attorney said. “When they hire agencies to care for them . . . they should not be using religious criteria to deny children access to families that they desperately need.”
Lehman, told the publication, however, that by choosing Christian foster parents, “the children will see what a life dedicated to proclaiming the love of God is about.”