Romney and Lee join Republican battle for faith-based fostering agencies

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Congressional Republicans have come out in favor of faith-based fostering and adoption agencies after the Biden administration moved to make it harder for such organizations to access exemptions to federal non-discrimination rules .

In a public letter signed by more than 100 senators and representatives, including Utah Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, Republican leaders are calling on the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that religion-affiliated agencies do not lose access to government funding as a result of their religious beliefs.

“HHS should welcome child protection service providers, not exclude them. Children are too important to be pawns in political games,” they say.

The letter responds to the Ministry’s November request announcement that it was reversing “overbroad” waivers granted by the Trump administration to faith-based agencies that violate the Non-Discrimination Act, such as refusing to train or place children with LGBTQ couples. HHS left open the possibility of granting future religious exemption requests, but said such requests would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

“Our action ensures that we are better prepared to protect the right of every American to be free from discrimination. With the large number of discrimination complaints before us, we owe it to everyone who comes forward to take action, whether to review, investigate or take appropriate action to protect their rights. At HHS, we treat any violation of civil rights or religious freedoms seriously,” Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said in November.

In their letter, the Republican lawmakers say this policy move will hurt the hundreds of thousands of children who are currently in foster care. Some families only feel comfortable registering to foster or adopt if they have the option of partnering with a religion-affiliated agency, the letter says.

“The freedom to work with faith-based agencies is vital for many foster families,” the lawmakers wrote. “Your hasty actions create no winners, only losers in the form of children, parents, religious freedom and the rule of law.”

Proponents of the ministry’s decision cast that decision in a different light. Rather than focusing on the needs of faith-based organizations, they point to the potential danger of allowing agencies to turn away otherwise qualified foster parents because they are gay or because of their religion.

“The Department of Health and Human Services should never allow taxpayer-funded fostering agencies to apply a religious litmus test to discriminate against Catholic, Jewish, LGBTQ, and other families who wish to help children in foster care. home,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in a November statement praising the department’s decision to waiver.

The ongoing dispute over the Biden administration’s approach to religious exemptions is only part of a larger battle over how to balance religious freedom with anti-discrimination protections in the context. foster care. For years, legal experts, legislators and child welfare advocates have been locked in a dispute over how best to balance the rights of religiously affiliated bodies with the rights of the children and parents they serve.

Last year, a lawsuit related to this larger battle made it all the way to the Supreme Court. The judges unanimously ruled in favor of a Catholic agency in Philadelphia, deciding that city officials could not refuse to host faith-based agencies since they were willing to accept other types of accommodation requests.

The agency “seeks only accommodation that will allow it to continue to serve the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; he does not seek to impose these beliefs on anyone,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.

Republican lawmakers cite that ruling in their letter to HHS, arguing that the Supreme Court clearly believes faith-based providers deserve religious freedom protections.

However, some legal experts believe that this summary of the decision is too simplistic. They claim that the court has not yet clearly defined how to reconcile religious rights with the rules of non-discrimination.

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