Monday, May 11, 2020

Waiver For Foster Care Agencies To Select Parents Using Religious Criteria Violates Establishment Clause

In Rogers v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, (D SC, May 8, 2020), a South Carolina federal district court refused to dismiss Establishment Clause and sexual orientation discrimination claims by a lesbian couple who challenged waivers granted by the state and federal government allowing religious child placement agencies (CPA's) receiving government funds to select foster parents on the basis of religion. (See prior posting.) The court said in part:
Plaintiffs allege that their inability to become foster parents through Miracle Hill was directly caused by the actions of the State Defendants and Federal Defendants because they have affirmatively enabled the discrimination against Plaintiffs by authorizing Miracle Hill and other religiously-affiliated CPAs to use religious criteria to reject prospective foster parents....
[T]he court finds that a reasonable, informed observer could conclude that the Defendants’ actions were taken in an effort to protect a specific CPA, Miracle Hill, and permit discrimination within South Carolina’s foster care program on the basis of Miracle Hill’s religious criteria. Other courts have similarly held that where, as Plaintiffs allege occurred in this case, a state’s authorization for faith-based CPAs to use religious criteria to exclude prospective foster parents “objectively endorses the religious views of those agencies[,] . . . sending a message . . . that [those prospective foster parents who are rejected] are outsiders, not full members of the community.”... Accordingly, taking all facts set forth in the Complaint as true, Plaintiffs have set forth sufficient allegations that Defendants’ actions had the primary effect of advancing and endorsing religion and, thereby, violate the Lemon test and the requirements of the Establishment Clause. ....
Contrary to Defendants’ argument, the Supreme Court has long recognized that the Constitution does not permit “a system of government in which important, discretionary governmental powers would be delegated to or shared with religious institutions.”... Therefore, to the extent Defendants’ assert that their actions are immune from challenge under the Establishment Clause as “religious accommodation,” such argument is directly contrary to the well-pled allegations in the Complaint and long-established federal jurisprudence and must be rejected at this stage of the proceedings.
Lambda Legal issued a press release announcing the decision.