WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, three key members of the U.S. House of Representatives joined community organizations in opposing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services action granting a waiver to the State of South Carolina allowing religious organizations to use federal funds to discriminate against foster families on the basis of religion and sexual orientation.

This waiver violates Congress’ clear intent outlined in the recently enacted Family First Prevention Services Act, which required states to update their licensing requirements to expand access to appropriate foster parents. Today’s action by HHS reduces the number of homes available children in need of care and stability.

The waiver was sought by the State on behalf of Miracle Hill Ministries, a Christian social service agency that places children in homes that meet two requirements: the parents are practicing Protestants and not in a same-sex relationship.

Here are few reactions from Members of Congress and concerned South Carolina advocacy organizations:

Rep. James E. Clyburn (SC-6), U.S. House Majority Whip

“I have stood against discrimination my entire career, and this waiver is unlawful discrimination based on religion and sexual orientation. The real tragedy of this situation is that federal funding is being used to keep children out of loving homes.”

Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC-1)

“I believe that the Trump Administration’s decision to grant a waiver allowing a taxpayer-funded organization to discriminate on the basis of religion is morally wrong, unconstitutional, and sets a very dangerous precedent. More importantly, we should not be in the position of denying families that want to help vulnerable children based on criteria that in no way impacts their ability to be a loving parent or mentor.”

Rep. John Lewis (GA-5), lead House Democratic sponsor of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act and member of the Ways & Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal policy with respect to tax-exempt organizations and child welfare.

“It is remarkable to me that making it easy for agencies in South Carolina to discriminate against adoptive or foster parents comes so easily to this administration, yet the emergency facing millions of vulnerable orphan or foster children falls on deaf ears. This decision by HHS suggests that it is not the children, but the social welfare agencies themselves, who require protection.

“The federal government should not license and sanction hate and discrimination. Why is even-handed treatment and non-discrimination regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation seen as such a burden today? Why do we need to make room in this society to single people out and deny them the same rights as others? Not only does this decision run exactly opposite to the opinions of a majority of Americans, it is a major step back to the dark past where the politics of fear were the order of the day.”

Sue Berkowitz, Director of SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center

“Our state foster care system is facing many challenges recruiting loving and competent families. This should be our state’s first priority in efforts to repair what is a broken system. Allowing caring families to be discriminated against and denied the opportunity to become a foster home hurts the very children our state is charged to protect and should not be allowed.”

Eileen Chepenik, President and Judi Corsaro, CEO of the Charleston Jewish Federation

“Our state foster care system is facing many challenges recruiting loving and competent families. This should be our state’s first priority to repair what is a broken system. Allowing caring families to be discriminated against and denied the opportunity to become a foster home hurts the very children our state is charged to protect and should not be allowed.

“The Charleston Jewish Federation is dismayed to learn of the exemption granting Federal funding to Miracle Hill Ministries despite their practice of religious discrimination in the foster care of children. The children in our state need loving and caring homes. As one of the state’s largest agencies responsible for the placement of these children, it is disgraceful and incomprehensible that the federal government is financially endorsing discrimination based on religion or sexual orientation. This flies in the face of the first amendment to our nation’s constitution. As Jews, we believe in Tikkun Olam, repair of the world, and support children’s welfare, whatever an adopting family’s religion, race, or sexual orientation.”

Jeff Ayers, Executive Director of SC Equality

“Miracle Hill continues to discriminate against LGBT families wanting to adopt children in the state of South Carolina. And despite the organization’s claim that this is because they are a Christian organization, Miracle Hill receives millions in state and federal dollars. As Americans we must work to fight against any form of discrimination that marginalizes individuals at the hands of government-funded dollars. Right now there are children in South Carolina who could be living in stable, loving homes, with parents who just happen to be LGBT. It’s disgraceful that an agency working to provide suitable homes for children would deny then access to a bright future.”

Colleen Condon, the president of AFFA (Alliance for Full Acceptance) and a family law attorney in Charleston

“We are so disappointed that the Federal Government has granted an exemption allowing religious discrimination in adoptions. What could be a higher priority than finding homes for children? How could religious affiliation and sexual orientation have anything to do with being a good parent? Miracle Hill discriminates against Catholics, faithful Jewish people, and gay married parents, and all unmarried parents. How can HHS find this acceptable?

“AFFA advocates for social justice for gay parents. And I work with wonderful parents seeking to care for a child who otherwise will be left in the tentative world of foster care and group homes. We will not let this stand.”