On Wednesday, February 13, 95 Members of the House signed a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar criticizing the Departments decision to grant a waiver to South Carolina from nondiscrimination provisions of the federal child welfare programs. A few days later Americans United filed a lawsuit against HHS.

The House of Representatives letter states, “We write to you to express our strong opposition to a waiver your department granted to South Carolina from nondiscrimination requirements for its state-contracted child welfare agencies.”

The waiver request had been pending since last summer and was granted on January 23. House members also told Azar:

“This waiver wrongly uses the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a justification to bypass the non-discrimination provisions that apply to volunteers and parents in foster care and adoption system.”

Some members of Congress issued press statements in conjunction with the letter. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) joined together with several members in a statement.

Later in the week, Americans United filed a lawsuit against HHS and South Carolina challenging the decision in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. The legal action claims: it is unconstitutional for government-funded agencies to discriminate against prospective foster parents and volunteers based on their religion; South Carolina and HHS may not spend or provide tax dollars to faith-based foster care agencies that use discriminatory religious criteria; and HHS did not follow proper procedure when it excused South Carolina and its foster care agencies from following federal anti-discrimination law.

They are representing Aimee Maddonna, a Catholic mother of three who was turned away by Miracle Hill Ministries. Maddonna and her family had been told by Miracle Hill Ministries they were a great fit to help foster care children. Then the agency asked what church they attended. After learning the family is Catholic, Miracle Hill turned the Maddonnas away, saying they will only work with evangelical Protestants – not Catholics, Jews or people of any other faith.