Upstate faith-based foster program changes policy

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GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA) – The Protestant non-profit, Miracle Hill Ministries, is changing its policy to allow other Christian families to be employed there and take part in their foster care program, including Catholics.

“What we want to be known for is that we’re serving, helping the vulnerable in our community, making a difference for them,” said Miracle Hill Communications Director Sandy Furnell. “We know that we can do that with greater strength as we work with fellow followers of Jesus Christ.”

A Simpsonville mother, Aimee Maddonna, is accusing the federally funded foster agency of not working with her because she is Catholic.

She filed a lawsuit challenging a waiver granted to Miracle Hill ministries earlier this year.

“We expected lawsuits but we didn’t expect a lawsuit that would be about religion and so for us we were grieved that it appeared we were in a fight with other followers of Christ,” said Furnell.

Their beliefs are outlined in their doctrinal statement which also says “God’s design for marriage is the legal joining of one man and one woman,” meaning LGBTQ couples are still excluded.

“As a queer person of color it sounds very familiar to ‘we have the right to not serve black people.’ Discrimination is discrimination,” said Upstate Pride SC Vice President Caroline Caldwell. “I’m a Christian and I don’t operate in that space. The Jesus I know was about love.”

Caldwell says Miracle Hill protecting its religious freedom this way is only hurting more children who need foster homes.

“There are many longitudinal studies done,” said Caldwell. “What we found time and time again is that children raised in same sex households fair as well as those raised in heteronormative.”

Furnell said South Carolina has a great shortage of foster homes and Miracle Hill is trying to be part of the solution.

“We would like to see more groups step up and open up foster care programs to recruit more families because we believe that’s really the way this problem is going to be solved,” said Furnell.

They said the Catholic Diocese of Charleston applauded their decision to include Catholic families.

“When we’ve had conversations with local leaders in different churches, the Catholic church and different denominations, they too have been very pleased to hear about this change,” said Furnell.

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Maddonna, released this statement to 7News:

“Whether or not Miracle Hill has changed anything, it still requires prospective parents and volunteers to sign its statement of faith to foster or help children. Rather than putting an end to this state-sponsored, state-funded discrimination, the supposed new policy would be even worse, because it would require our client, Aimee Maddonna, and other applicants to convert to Miracle Hill’s preferred faith of evangelical Protestantism. Our lawsuit – which is against the state and federal governments, not against Miracle Hill – is about the constitutional violations of licensing taxpayer-funded agencies to deny services based on religious beliefs. Those violations remain with or without the supposed new policy.”
-Richard B. Katskee, legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Miracle Hill adds that they serves everyone who comes seeking help, regardless of their faith or no faith at all, and embracing Christianity is not a requirement for receiving services. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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