President Trump moved on Friday to repeal an Obama-era regulation that bars federally funded adoption and foster-care programs from serving families based on their religious beliefs.
The Department of Health and Human Services issued a proposed regulation that would require grant recipients to comply with laws protecting religious liberty, as well as other nondiscrimination statutes. Conflicts in some states have centered on whether foster-care agencies can reject parents based on sexual orientation.
Administration officials said the action is needed to address a crisis in foster care.
“Today, the administration is proposing a regulation to fulfill President Trump’s promise to allow faith-based social service providers who receive HHS grants to continue serving their communities without compromising their beliefs,” said a senior administration official.
The official noted that the Obama administration imposed the rule in its final weeks in office, and said the Trump administration is “committed to doing rule-making right, and to removing regulatory barriers that prevent non-profits from doing what they do best — serving the needy and vulnerable in their communities.”
“The administration is also fully committed to preserving the religious freedom rights of faith-based organizations,” the official said.
The administration has been signaling such a move, saying the Obama rule has harmed foster-care services. For example, in January, the administration granted a waiver from the Obama rule for Miracle Hill Ministries in South Carolina, which only works with heterosexual Christian families in a federally funded foster care program. Advocates say Miracle Hill wouldn’t be able to continue recruiting parents under the current rule.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton urged the administration in January 2018 to repeal the Obama administration’s rule. He said it conflicts with the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which was introduced by current Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, and with state law.
“People of faith should not be required to forfeit their sincerely held religious beliefs as a condition of helping Texas’ most vulnerable children,” Mr. Paxton wrote. “The rule substantially burdens religious beliefs of providers whose faith disagrees with same-sex marriage and precludes them from placing children in such arrangements.”
The proposed Trump rule would not reimpose costs associated with penalties for failing to comply with the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The administration has already eliminated the penalty associated with failing to comply with Obamacare’s individual mandate.
Administration officials say faith-based groups are crucial to finding permanent homes for vulnerable children, and that there is a foster-care crisis in the U.S.
The number of children in foster care has risen nationwide for five years in a row, to about 443,000. Of those, more than 100,000 children are awaiting adoption.
The number of children entering the foster-care system due to parental drug use has more than doubled since 2000, officials say.
Several states have imposed similar rules to the Obama administration’s regulation. The administration says in the five years after Illinois passed a law ending faith-based partnerships in 2011, the state lost 1,547 foster homes.
Conservatives cheered the move.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the action would “open the door to discrimination based on faith, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in countless federally-funded programs.”
“It is despicable that this administration would authorize taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies to discriminate against children and turn away qualified families they desperately need,” said Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the group’s LGBT & HIV Project. “Children and families should not be denied services because of discrimination.”
“It’s encouraging to see the Trump administration continue to take this issue seriously and ensure that faith-based foster care services, like Miracle Hill, can continue their amazing work in our communities,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan, South Carolina Republican. “The decision by HHS will further protect religious liberty and the children and families that rely on these critical services.”
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins called it “tremendous news for children, birth moms, and adoptive families, who want the opportunity to work with an agency that shares their values and core beliefs – without fear of government discrimination.”
“Under the proposed HHS rule, faith-based adoption providers will no longer have to choose between abandoning their faith or abandoning homeless children because the government disapproves of their views on marriage,” Mr. Perkins said. “The need for this action is unfortunately evident as various state and local governments have trampled upon religious freedom protections and the First Amendment, forcing the shut-down of faith-based adoption providers that decline to leave their faith at the door.”
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