03 February 2019

"An Earthquake in Federal Civil Rights Law"

Ruth Bader Ginsberg was right about Burwell v. Hobby Lobby - of course.
The path of Wednesday’s decision began when Miracle Hill Ministries, a Christian foster care agency, refused to work with multiple applicants who did not share its beliefs. Miracle Hill turned away a Jewish woman eager to mentor children in foster care because she was not Christian. It also rejected same-sex couples because their sexual orientation did not align with its religious values. In response, the South Carolina Department of Social Services warned Miracle Hill that it could lose its license if it "intends to refuse to provide its services . . . to families who are not specifically Christians from a Protestant denomination."
The above quote is from a 24 January 2019 article at Slate.com. The headline of the article  is misleading.  But do not let that stop you from reading the article.  It is  not long.  And it succinctly describes the back and forth which precipitated from the discrimination, up to the exemption determination.  Based on what the foster care agency said, it does not appear to be religious discrimination against only Jews, as the headline suggests - but more precisely it is discrimination against all people who are NOT Christian, and also non-Protestant Christians.  Big difference.  However, very clearly it IS religious discrimination.  And it is double discrimination against same-sex couples  because their sexual orientation "did not align with the agencies religious values", even if the couples are Christian. 

Being federally funded Miracle Hill is . . . was . . .  prohibited from discriminating.  In the past agencies and families have tried to honor preferences of adopting parents and of a living parent or guardian of a child.  They probably still do. I do not know if that occurs with fostering.  It does not seem to have been the issue at Miracle Hill.

Read the short article.  The spoiler is that even with an executive order from the Governor of South Carolina, Miracle Hill needed a federal exemption and "on Wednesday, Wagner granted the request in a four-page letter that amounts to an earthquake in federal civil rights law." 

Essentially, the letter apparently grants Miracle Hill the right to not "partner with certain potential foster parents because of Miracle Hill's religious beliefs".  

There are links in the article to the many supporting documents for those who value the pertinent facts and want to understand the big picture into which the Miracle Hill Ministries foster care agency decision fits. 

The last paragraph on page three states the determination that was made the last week in January of this year:
After reviewing all of the information you have provided, we have determined that requiring your subgrantee Miracle Hill to comply with the religious non-discrimination provision of 45 CFR 75.300(c) would cause a burden to religious beliefs that is unacceptable under the RFRA. While this determination is sufficient to require the granting of your request for an exception from such provision of the regulation, we also note that the application of the regulatory requirement would also cause a significant programmatic burden for the SC Foster Care Program by impeding the placement of children into foster care.
I suggest that anyone with family and friends who are same-sex partners, or whose religion is NOT Christian, may want to be concerned about the request for exception.  However, it is not only about adoption, or same-sex couples, or non-Christian religions.  Like the Slate.com article states "The grim future that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg foresaw in Hobby Lobby has arrived" (re: Ginsberg's famous dissent about the infamous and notorious Burwell v. Hobby Lobby  supreme court ruling allowing discrimination that convoluted an anti-discrimination law). 

The tally of allowed discrimination started with contraceptive coverage - for women.  Now it is up to three, with same-sex couples and non-Christians having been added recently -  a subset of non-Protestant Christians also having been specified . . . which more or less tallies up to four.  Those four, alone, already cover too much ground.  Who, and what next?