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Aimee Maddonna, of Simpsonville, South Carolina, is a nice lady who wanted to take in some foster children and give them a nice home, with her, her husband and their children. Her father had been in the foster care system himself, and her parents had always brought foster children into their home as well, hoping to give those kids a better experience than he had in the system. She had hoped to continue the tradition, and went to Miracle Hill Ministries, the largest and most widely advertised foster care provider in the state, to get started. At first, Miracle Hill told her that she and her family would be a great fit for foster kids and seemed excited to have them on board.

And then they asked her what church she went to.


It was at this point that the Maddonnas were told that, actually, they were totally unqualified to foster any children -- because they were Catholics, and Miracle Hill would only place children with evangelical Protestants. Which is awfully specific! Like, it's obviously bad to discriminate against anyone for any reason, but that is some real nitty gritty shit right there.

Miracle Hill is funded by taxes from both the state and the federal government, by the taxes of many people who are not evangelical Christians. Traditionally, this has barred organizations like this from discriminating against anybody. It's a very simple idea! If you want to take money from everyone, then you don't get to discriminate against the people you are taking money from. Only 35 percent of adults in South Carolina even identify as evangelical Protestants, so it seems pretty ridiculous to have the largest foster care program in the state be something that the majority of people in the state cannot participate in.

Maddonna assumed she would have immediate legal recourse against Miracle Hill. She did not. Both the Trump administration and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster are standing by Miracle Hill's right to discriminate against people for any reason, including not being the right kind of Christian. This past January, at McMaster's request, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) issued a policy stating that government faith-based adoption and foster services are not required to "recruit, work with, train, or place children with prospective foster parents who do not share the private child-placement agency's religious beliefs."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit against DHS on Tuesday, on behalf of the Maddonnas, for the purpose of stopping "the federal government and South Carolina from authorizing and encouraging religious discrimination with taxpayer dollars."

The lawsuit states:

The Maddonnas suffered harms as alleged in this Complaint because Miracle Hill Ministries, an organization that contracts with South Carolina to serve as the state's agent in licensing foster parents and making placements of foster children with families, denied the Maddonnas the opportunity to foster or volunteer with foster children in the organization's care because the family does not share the organization's preferred religious beliefs.

The Maddonnas also suffered harms as alleged in this Complaint because they object to paying through their federal and state tax dollars for publicly funded foster-care services that are provided not in the best interests of foster children and families but instead in a discriminatory manner that excludes Catholics, Jews, other religious minorities, and nonbelievers for not adhering to a preferred faith.

What this amounts to is that people are literally paying to be discriminated against. Normally, that would be very illegal. It should be very illegal.

As Aimee Madonna points out, this policy doesn't just hurt prospective foster parents; it doesn't just hurt the 65 percent of people in the state who are paying taxes that fund programs like this without being able to participate in them; it also hurts the children, who still need homes.

Via Americans United:

"It was demoralizing to hear we are not good enough because we aren't the right kind of Christians. It was difficult for my family, of course, but at the end of the day my kids still have parents," said Maddonna. "These foster children need and deserve to have someone looking out for them – and the government is taking that away. They don't have moms at their football games, or Christmas morning fights with their siblings, or Sunday night dinners around the table. These children are still in an institution. That isn't right, it isn't fair and it isn't necessary."

If Miracle Hill wishes to discriminate against Catholics, or any other group, they should do something that doesn't involve a public service, something they can do on their own time and their own dime. They can sit in their damn church and stew all day about how and why they don't like Catholics. They are free to ban all Catholics from their private homes. Smash some rosary beads, if that's what makes them happy. No one is saying they can't! I, for one, dislike lots of people -- including evangelical Christians who go around discriminating against people or getting in other people's faces about their personal religious or non-religious beliefs.

But they should not have the right to take public funds and use them to discriminate against the public. How is this even complicated?

[Americans United for Separation of Church and State]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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