A group of 40 senators sent a letter to Health and Human Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday, March 13, condemning the recent decision by HHS to grant a religious exemption from federal nondiscrimination laws and regulations for state-contracted child welfare agencies in South Carolina.

Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-OR, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) led the effort to get 40 Senate Democrats to sign the letter. The letter, in part, urges HHS to revoke the waiver and refrain from permitting any other similar measures that sanction taxpayer-funded religious discrimination.

The Senate letter said in part,

“With this waiver, HHS has openly condoned taxpayer-funded discrimination and elevated the religious beliefs of state-contracted foster care providers over the best interest of vulnerable children in the foster care system…With HHS’s stamp of approval, Miracle Hill Ministries and other South Carolina faith-based foster care agencies can now legally turn away qualified foster and adoptive parents just because they do not share the agency’s faith. This unprecedented action runs counter not only to the principles on which the United States was founded, but also to the goals of the foster care system.”

The senators in their letter cite the decision as an infringement on the constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom rights of prospective foster parents, foster children and their biological parents. Senators signing the letter included:

Wyden, Feinstein, Menendez and Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-Il), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Brian Schatz (D-HA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Edward Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Michael F. Bennet (D-CA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Bob Casey, (D-PA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WS), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tina Smith (D-MN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Patty Murray (D-WA).

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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