Trump administration ponders move to make it legal to discriminate against Jewish parents

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South Carolina is lobbying the Trump administration to allow it to use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in order to allow “faith-based foster care agencies” the power to discriminate against Jewish parents, Muslim parents, LGBT parents. According to the Intercept, the Trump administration is seriously considering this mauling of civil rights by way of a religious exemption, not that much different than the ones businesses have been using to screw their employees out of robust women’s healthcare insurance. 

If granted, the exemption would allow Miracle Hill Ministries, a Protestant social service agency working in the state’s northwest region, to continue receiving federal dollars while “recruiting Christian foster families,” which it has been doing since 1988, according to its website. That discrimination would apply not just to Jewish parents, but also to parents who are Muslim, Catholic, Unitarian, atheist, agnostic or other some other non-Protestant Christian denomination.

South Carolina has seen a rise in foster care demand as the opioid epidemic continues to ravage families, unabated or not dealt with by officials. Miracle Hill is a foster care agency that has blatantly discriminated against families that are not Protestant Christian, according to local Greenville News. Beth Lesser and her husband moved to South Carolina from Florida, where they had been foster parents for over a decade. Lesser wanted to continue with her foster work and ended up getting training from a Miracle Hill staffer.

After training and completing background checks, Lesser said protestant Christians were given an application and told that they could work with the staff at Miracle Hill. Others were given the option of working with the state Department of Social Services, she said.

Lesser, who is Jewish, said she wasn’t given the opportunity to work with Miracle Hill, which has a significantly higher pool of children. In the end, her options for mentoring were limited, she said. The reason? She was told by Miracle Hill staff that she wasn’t selected because she didn’t share the organization’s Christian beliefs.

This isn’t a he said, she said scenario. This is what they believe.

President and CEO Reid Lehman explains how it’s Christian to discriminate

“The issue, as we see it, is that we’ve been threatened that if we don’t open our Miracle Hill foster care families to non-Christians, we can no longer recruit foster families and we can no longer support them,” Reid Lehman, Miracle Hill’s president and CEO, said. “We think that’s a religious liberty issue.”

Of course you do. Mrs. Lesser is a “proud supporter” of President Trump, by the way. I don’t want to speak ill of her thoughts on that matter, but I doubt she will be getting the satisfaction she hopes for.

For the state’s DSS, the practice of discriminating against Jewish families was too much. As early as January 2018, DSS sent a letter raising concerns that the agency was violating federal and state nondiscrimination laws, as well as DSS policy, by requiring applicants to meet strict religious standards — namely, being a practicing Protestant and not being in a same-sex relationship. The letter was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union, which provided it to The Intercept.

Miracle Hill is the only religiously based foster program in the state that has a discrimination policy, according to the Intercept, and they plan on keeping it that way—with a little help from their conservative friends.

But Miracle Hill, which is closely allied with the top GOP leadership of the state, had a different response: It went to lawmakers and the governor, who changed state law to shield Miracle Hill from DSS. The state officials in turn pleaded Miracle Hill’s case to the Trump administration.

According to Lesser and others who have been discriminated against by Miracle Hill, the issue is bigger than simply moving on to the DSS. The DSS is understaffed, handles emergency responses to things like Hurricane Michael, and does not work as well at doing the foster care job that Miracle Hill does. This, of course, is by conservative design. Privatizing social services works best when you make the government agency work poorly, while giving taxpayer money to the private entities that are now preferable because of their competence. It’s profoundly insidious because the people on the ground that are trying to get services for foster children cannot wait for long, drawn-out political battles.

Trump opened a new “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” under the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights in January. The issue in South Carolina will test what most of us already know are its directives: make it federally legal to discriminate based on religious doctrine.

Miracle Hill’s logo is a white-on-blue image of someone lending a hand to help someone off of the floor. I guess Miracle Hill will pick you up long enough to ask you if you are a Protestant Christian, but will quickly drop you right back if you aren’t. The New Testament has a Gospel called Luke. In it, Jesus of Nazareth is questioned by an expert of the law. In the Bible, this means Moses’s law. It is during this exchange that Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When pressed to explain that statement, he relays this story.

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

It’s important to note that the priest is a Jewish holy man in the faith that Jesus is teaching. The Levites were a tribe known for being the assistants to the priests in the Jewish Temple. The Samaritans were the Jewish people’s sworn enemies. It is important to point this out, as this very famous and easy-to-understand parable seems to have gone very far over people like CEO Reid Lehman’s heads. Maybe people like Lehman have sunk too low in their fear and bigotry to even see the Mount, let alone hear the sermon anymore.

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Alfred Higgins
Alfred Higgins

“….Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out- Because I was not a Jew……..”— Martin Niemoller