HHS overthrow on religious adoption agencies draws sharp reprimands


The lawyer who spent two years helping promote the rights of religious institutions at the Department of Health and Human Services is preparing to sue his former agency for overturning religious liberty protections this week given to protection organizations. childhood.

Justin Butterfield, who served for two years as the HHS senior adviser for conscience and religious freedom in the Trump administration, said on Friday he would go to court on behalf of adoption and custody agencies. ‘children who will now face federal demands not to refuse to foster children. with LGBTQ families and those who do not support agency beliefs.

“If there is a religious organization and their religious freedom rights are violated by the HHS, as we have seen dozens and dozens of times in the past years, we will stand against them and sue the HHS. in court, ”Mr. Butterfield, now Deputy General Counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a public interest law firm in Plano, Texas, said in a telephone interview.

Mr Butterfield added: “The HHS is perfectly capable of reading federal law and recognizing that it is doing something that is going to weigh down the religious beliefs of religious organizations across the country. And the government can take responsibility for its actions and avoid that in the first place. But if they don’t, we’ll stand up and fight them.

Other religious freedom advocates expressed outrage at the Biden administration’s decision on Friday, while a legal expert said rocking such exemptions with new administrations in Washington is not helping people that the rules of the Trump era were intended to protect.

HHS move removes waivers granted by President Trump to states of Michigan, South Carolina and Texas, as well as some child welfare agencies in those states, and would require groups receiving federal funds .

Announcing the decision Thursday, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said the decision “supports the fundamental American principle and a core mission of our department – to ensure that Americans have access to quality health and human services. Our action ensures that we are best prepared to protect the right of every American to be free from discrimination. ”

Supporters of the decision said private agencies contracting with the government and spending taxpayer money should not be able to cite religious beliefs to avoid giving all applicants equal treatment.

The Federal Department of Health, said Rachel Laser, President of the United States for Separation of Church and State, in a statement released after Mr Becerra’s announcement, “should never allow agencies taxpayer-funded care to use a litmus test to discriminate against Catholics. , Jews, LGBTQ and other families who want to help children in foster care.

The HHS overthrow comes just months after the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 against the city of Philadelphia for refusing to contract with Catholic Social Services unless the faith-based agency agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents. The High Court said such a request violates the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause.

Thursday’s decision “by HHS is truly tragic and truly sad to see,” Mary Beth Waddell, director of federal affairs – family and religious freedom, told the conservative Family Research Council. “It will not help children who are in need. We need a holistic approach, and that means allowing faith-based entities to be in this space and to have an equal footing. “

Ms. Waddell said some women in pregnancy crisis “want a faith-based agency to walk them through this; they want a denominational home to put their child in, and that’s the only parenting decision they have to make.

The FRC official blamed the controversy over the issue on those who do not understand the scope of the First Amendment’s provisions on religious freedom.

“A lot of people just don’t understand the general nature of the First Amendment. … It is not just your right to pray in your own home or in a church, temple or synagogue that you can choose, ”Ms. Waddell said. “It is your right to practice your religion, including the exercises thereof, and not only to have the belief, but to act according to that belief in the public square. ”

Another public interest law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom, also attacked the HHS decision.

“Christian adoption providers who help children find loving homes with married mothers and fathers should be protected,” said Matt Sharp, senior counsel for ADF. “It is wrong to demand that organizations, like New Hope Family Services and Catholic Charities West Michigan, undergo unwarranted and unreasonable scrutiny simply because they wish to serve children and families in their communities in a manner consistent with their own. religious beliefs.”

The two agencies named by Mr. Sharp are ADF clients who have filed a lawsuit for what they claim to be harassment by states opposed to their religious tenets.

Robin Fretwell Wilson, a professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana School of Law and an expert on religious freedom issues, told the Washington Times that the back and forth of successive administrations granting and removing exemptions no were not helpful.

“If an administration grants a total exemption from general obligations to serve everyone, it will not retain this approach over time,” Wilson said. “This happened with the adoption and foster care exemptions. The fragility of this ‘one-sided protection’ approach ultimately serves the very people the Trump settlement purports to protect, ”she added.

Ms Wilson said the HHS change “is a lesson in overcoming, taking into account a single set of interests is inherently destabilizing and converts what might be a win-win into a temporary gain.”


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