Catholic woman sues SC, HHS over nondiscrimination waiver for Christians-only foster care agency

Miracle Hill
A sign for the Miracle Hill Children's Home in Pickens, South Carolina. |

A Catholic woman is suing South Carolina and the federal government, claiming she was denied the opportunity to volunteer or foster at a Christians-only agency because she's not Protestant.

Miracle Hill Ministries was granted an exemption last month to a federal HHS anti-discrimination rule implemented under the Obama administration that would have shut down the agency. 

The waiver Miracle Hill received from the Trump administration, at the behest of South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, allowed it to continue operating as long as it referred non-Christian parents to other agencies. 

On Friday, however, Americans United for Separation of Church and State released a statement saying that Aimee Maddonna, a Catholic mother from Simpsonville, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Greenville Division against the HHS and South Carolina demanding that Miracle Hill’s exemption be revoked.

“The exemption violates the equal-protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it has both the purpose and effect of discriminating impermissibly on the basis of religion,” read one of the counts in the complaint

Maddonna claims that Miracle Hill discriminated against her by not allowing her to volunteer and foster through their program because she's Catholic rather than evangelical Protestant. 

“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,” continued the suit.

“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.”

Maddonna is being represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a liberal activist group that has been critical of Miracle Hill being granted a waiver in the first place.

“At its heart, this case is about two of our country’s most sacred principles: defending religious freedom for all and protecting vulnerable children,” said Rachel Laser, president of Americans United, in a statement released Friday.

“It is unconscionable — and unconstitutional — that an amazing mother like Aimee Maddonna and her loving family are barred from helping children in need because they are the ‘wrong’ religion.”

Last month, HHS’ Administration for Children and Families sent a letter to McMaster granting a waiver for Miracle Hill, citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

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

As part of the waiver, Miracle Hill must refer foster parents who do not share their religious beliefs to another entity within the South Carolina’s foster care program.

The ACF letter ended by pointing out that the waiver “does not relieve the SC Foster Care Program of its obligation to comply with any other requirements.”

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