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Adoption and foster care agencies can make decisions based on religion

Some will remember the 2014 Supreme Court decision that expanded the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to enable for-profit corporations to deny contraceptive coverage if it is based on religious beliefs of the owners. Now that ruling has driven a decision by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to declare that a federally funded Christian foster care agency in South Carolina can refuse placement with would-be parents of different non-Christian faiths.

The agency has refused multiple applicants, including refusing placement to one couple based upon the fact the applicants were Jewish and refusing placement with a second same-sex couple. The reason stated for why their applications were refused was that these applicants did not share the same Christian values of the agency. Under the Supreme Court decision in 2014, this behavior is permissible since other agencies are still willing to help applicants that the Christian organization rejected.

This recent ruling by the HHS ostensibly applies to the South Carolina foster care agency, but advocates the implications could be far reaching to impact any agency that has a religious-based mission. The Texas Attorney General has already requested a similar exemption for the state’s agencies, which will likely lead to other states asking for their own exemptions.

Colorado agencies may be emboldened

This will likely add a complicated new wrinkle to the family building process of adoption or foster care. The rejection of the so-called Live and Let Live bill here in Colorado last year stopped a similarly discriminatory bill, but these issues could return in light of what recently took place in South Carolina. Individuals or families who wish to protect their rights in adoption and foster care matters are often best served by speaking with an attorney who works with clients interested in family building.

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