GREENVILLE, SC — A faith-based organization in South Carolina is facing a potential loss of its license for requiring foster families to be be Christian. South Carolina governor Henry McMaster says he is supportive of the organization and is working with federal officials in an effort to help protect the nonprofit’s rights.
According to local television station WSPA, the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) sent a letter to Miracle Hill Ministries to advise that the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had stated that it is unlawful to require foster parents to be of a particular faith.
The Christian organization operates several rescue shelters for the homeless, at least two children’s homes and two addiction recovery centers, as well as a foster placement program, which has successfully found families for nearly 250 children.
Miracle Hill Ministries says that it was told that it could lose its license as a foster placement agency if it continues to work only with the churches in the state.
“DSS is willing for Miracle Hill to continue recruiting the churches; they’re just saying that we cannot restrict our recruiting to [only] Christian families,” CEO Reid Lehman told WSPA.
Lehman said that there are still secular agencies that families can utilize, and the organization provides references to those groups.
“We’re just committed [to] our belief that we’re to work with Christian families,” he outlined. “As a non-denominational Christian ministry, we work hard to recruit them out of churches.”
Gov. Henry McMaster agrees that Miracle Hill, as a faith-based organization, should have the right to work with those who share in their beliefs. He sent a letter to Lehman to advise that he is working to obtain a waiver from the federal government.
“The licensing and participation of faith-based entities in the state foster care system is a constitutionally protected practice,” McMaster wrote, according to Greenville News. “It is important that religious organizations not be required to sacrifice the tenets of their faith in order to serve the children of South Carolina.”
“I will never stop fighting for your religious freedom. The generous foster families at Miracle Hill Ministries make sacrifices to protect our vulnerable children, but the government cannot force them to sacrifice their faith. Will you stand with us?” he also posted to social media on Thursday.
Lehman says that he is hopeful that the matter will be worked out.
“I just need to say this about DSS: They’re good people. They’re sincere people. Their job is to keep children safe and to obey laws and regulations as best they know, so it’s not a case of us against them,” said Lehman. “It’s a case of we need to get together to clarify these regulations, and to clarify that religious freedom is not circumscribed by regulations that say you can’t discriminate on the basis of sex and ethnicity and things like that.”
Miracle Hill is reportedly South Carolina’s top provider of foster families for level one children.