By Sam White
“In my view, what the Trump administration has done with the South Carolina waiver is unconstitutional. I also believe it’s just the latest iteration of a much larger assault on individual religious liberty.” Watch Senator Wyden’s full statement
Last Tuesday, Senator Ron Wyden stood up in the well of the Senate to decry the Trump Administration’s discriminatory actions in adoption and foster care. A longtime supporter of LGBTQ families and foster children, the Oregon Senator made it clear that the waiver the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided to allow foster care agencies to turn away qualified Jewish, Catholic, and LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents is unconstitutional. On the waiver, Wyden commented:
“It is horrendous policy because it’s gonna hurt vulnerable kids all across this country… it’s going to reduce the number of safe and loving foster homes available to youngsters in the child welfare system. That is the wrong, wrong way to go.
“Until the Trump administration intervened, Health and Human Services regulations explicitly banned religious discrimination in federally-funded social services programs. Discrimination that should be barred by our core constitutional protections…This year, the Trump administration has set a precedent that foster care agencies that receive federal dollars can turn away qualified, prospective foster parents simply because they are Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Mormon, or any other faith or simply because they are non-believers. What this is all about, in short, is a green light for taxpayer-funded discrimination on the basis of religion.”
Senator Wyden spoke specifically of the cases of Beth Lesser and Aimee Maddonna, who were turned away from Miracle Hill Ministries, the largest foster care agency in South Carolina, because of their religion. “You would think any foster care organization would be thrilled to have Ms. Lesser walk through their door, an experienced foster care parent coming to volunteer her time and her energy and her love.” Lesser, like Wyden, is Jewish. Maddonna is Catholic.
Wyden, also spoke to the importance of diverse families for diverse children:
“This policy is going to limit the diversity of foster homes and foster parents. And growing up around people of different views and philosophies and religions, diversity’s important for kids. It’s particularly important for LGBTQ youth who make up one in five kids in foster care. There are homes where LGBTQ kids are not safe, they benefit from the chance to grow up in these more inclusive backgrounds, where there are more diverse families who respect their sexual orientations and their gender identity.”
Currently, Miracle Hill Ministries places foster children of all faiths only with born-again Christian families. Wyden used his own Jewish heritage as a lens through which to view the impact on children of being taught that the faith of their birth parents is wrong: “The thought that children who’ve lost their parents could have another part of their identities stripped away is just appalling. That religious discrimination particularly is fundamentally an un-American act. The idea that it’s going to be propped up with federal tax dollars is just wrong.”
Wyden ended his speech with a call for bipartisan opposition to discrimination, “Now the Trump administration is spending taxpayer dollars not to help those kids, but to promote discrimination. That is not the way to help these kids, not the way to help these families and I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me in opposing these policies of discrimination.”
Wyden is one of twenty-three cosponsors of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act in the Senate, and one of 142 in the Congress as a whole. Family Equality thanks Senator Wyden for standing up for children in care, potential parents, and diverse families.