COLUMBIA, S.C. – In two separate cases, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina upheld South Carolina's right to continue to partner with faith-based foster care ministries in Rogers v. Health and Human Services and Maddonna v. Health and Human Services. In both cases, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State sued Governor Henry McMaster to try to stop the state from working with religious foster agencies. On Friday, a federal court shut down these attempts to shutter faith-based foster care, rejecting challenges to South Carolina's efforts to protect children in foster care and the families who serve them. These decisions will make it easier for all foster families in South Carolina to find an agency that meets their unique needs and for more foster children to find loving homes.
"These two rulings from the U.S. District Court represent significant wins for religious liberty and South Carolina's faith-based organizations like Miracle Hill, which will be able to continue their crucial mission of connecting children in foster care with loving homes," said Governor Henry McMaster. "These victories will directly benefit countless children by further ensuring that faith-based organizations will not be forced to abandon their beliefs to help provide critical services to our state's youth."
South Carolina works directly with families seeking to foster and adopt children in crisis situations, serving children and families from all backgrounds. The state also partners with an array of private agencies that help find and support more families for foster children who need a safe place to live. In 2018, Governor McMaster issued an Executive Order protecting the religious freedom of foster agencies in South Carolina. The ACLU then recruited individuals to sue South Carolina over the inclusion of a single faith-based agency, Miracle Hill. Rather than reach out to any other organization or to the South Carolina Department of Social Services, the plaintiffs went straight to federal court.
In its two opinions, the federal court protected the state’s freedom to partner with faith-based agencies who serve children in need, pointing out that those who sued the state “could [have] foster[ed] the same children at any of twenty-six other private agencies in the State, including eighteen in the Upstate or with the State itself.” The Supreme Court recently ruled unanimously in Fulton v. Philadelphia that the U.S. Constitution protected Catholic Social Services’ right to stay faithful to its religious beliefs while still serving foster children in Philadelphia. The federal court in this case relied on Fulton to stop similar attempts to shut down faith-based foster care ministries.
“This is a major victory for the children in South Carolina’s foster care system who were at risk of losing out on loving homes,” said Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “The attempt to shutter faith-based foster care agencies and decrease the number of foster homes for these kids violated the law and common sense. We are glad that South Carolina stood up for foster children and faith-based agencies and that the court protected them.”
Governor McMaster was represented in the two cases by Thomas Limehouse, Grayson Lambert, and Erica Shedd with the Office of the Governor, along with Miles Coleman of Nelson Mullins and attorneys with Becket.