WASHINGTON — The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed a rule that would provide protections for faith-based foster and adoption agencies that otherwise might lose federal grant funds for operating in accordance with their religious convictions — namely in declining to place children in households where there is not both a mother and father.
“Some federal grantees have stated that they will require their sub-grantees to comply with the non-statutory requirements [enacted under the Obama administration]… even if it means some subgrantees with religious objections will leave the program(s) and cease providing services rather than comply,” the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources lamented in a notice of proposed rule-making.
“The Department believes that such an outcome would likely reduce the effectiveness of programs funded by federal grants by reducing the number of entities available to provide services under these programs,” it outlined.
HHS noted that those organizations whose continued service to children and families are on the line are “providing a substantial percentage of services pursuant to some department-funded programs and are effective partners of federal and state government in providing such services.”
It also explained that change to the rules were necessary following “several complaints, requests for exceptions, and lawsuits.”
Therefore, rules under 45 C.F.R. in regard to the disbursement of federal award money and the requirement that grantees not “discriminate” will not be enforced and adjustments will be made to the government policy.
“The proposed rule represents the Trump Administration’s strong commitment to the rule of law — the Constitution, federal statutes, and Supreme Court decisions. These require that the federal government not infringe on religious freedom in its operation of HHS grant programs and address the impact of regulatory actions on small entities,” HHS stated in a press release on Friday.
As previously reported, the issue of whether faith-based foster and adoption agencies may operate in accordance to their religious convictions has been a significant topic of discussion in recent years.
In April, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied an injunction to a Philadelphia foster agency whose contract with the City was cancelled over a non-discrimination ordinance that prohibits agencies from turning away homosexuals. Without a contract, Catholic Social Services can’t place any children in government custody into a loving home.
The following month, a federal judge likewise ruled against a foster and adoption agency in Syracuse, New York, stating that the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) did not act with anti-religious bias when it issued an ultimatum that the agency either change its policies in regard to only placing children in homes with both a mother and father or discontinue its foster and adoption program.
The attorney general of Michigan, who as a lesbian, similarly reached a settlement earlier this year with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) prohibiting State-contracted foster care and adoption agencies from “turning away or referring to another contracted agency an otherwise potentially qualified LGBTQ individual or same-sex couple.”
However, the Lansing-based St. Vincent Catholic Charities soon filed suit, and in September, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker blocked the policy from going into effect, stating that Attorney General Dana Nessel had engaged in “a targeted attack on a sincerely held religious belief.”
“What St. Vincent has not done and will not do is give up its traditional Catholic belief that marriage as instituted by God is for one man and one woman,” he wrote. “Based on that belief, St. Vincent has exercised its discretion to ensure that it is not in the position of having to review and recommend to the State whether to certify a same-sex or unmarried couple, and to refer those cases to agencies that do not have a religious confession preventing an honest evaluation and recommendation.”
According to Fox News, should the proposed HHS adjustments proceed, they will not solely apply to faith-based foster and adoption agencies, but all organizations that receive federal funds. The move is being applauded by Christian and pro-family organizations.
“The Trump administration is right to fix misguided Obama-era regulations that threatened both children’s welfare and religious freedom,” Ryan Anderson of The Heritage Foundation told The Daily Signal. “No adoption agency or foster care service should be penalized simply because they believe children deserve both a mom and a dad.”
“There are currently over 400,000 children in the foster care system and 100,000 eligible for adoption, and faith-based adoption and foster care providers play an integral role in serving these vulnerable kids,” also remarked Zack Pruitt, senior counsel with the religious liberties organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
“Sadly, the previous regulation — finalized in the 11th hour of the Obama administration — failed to protect all providers and discriminated against faith-based providers simply because of their beliefs about marriage. That is not keeping kids first,” he said. “HHS’s proposed rule to end this discrimination offers hope for children, more options for birth mothers, support for families, and increased flexibility for states seeking to alleviate real human need.”