Rogers v. HHS

A helping hand rooted in faith

Across the nation, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care and a severe shortage of loving homes. In South Carolina alone, there are over 3,500 children in the foster care system and the state works hard to find loving homes for each child. To find more homes, the state partners with a diverse array of agencies that provide children with loving homes. They recruit from and serve specific communities that come together to address this crisis. As in many states, some of these providers are faith-based organizations.

One such agency is Miracle Hill, a religious non-profit that provides foster care support services to licensed foster parents, helping them serve children in the foster care system. Miracle Hill’s legacy of service is over 80 years old.

An essential ministry under fire

When new federal regulations threatened the ability of states to partner with religious foster agencies, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster worked with the federal Department of Health and Human Services to obtain a waiver that ensured that these ministries could continue to work with the state to place foster children in need.

The American Civil Liberties Union took to Twitter, asking people to help sue Governor McMaster for protecting religious freedom. A family who had never applied to the state to become foster parents then sued.

The law protects SC’s partnership with religious foster care ministries

The First Amendment protects South Carolina’s right to partner with faith-based ministries that serve children in need. In Fulton v. Philadelphia, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that religious ministries aren’t required to lay their beliefs aside to participate in the public square.

Maddonna v. HHS is a similar case brought by Americans United at the district court of South Carolina. On September 29, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina ruled that the state can protect faith-based foster care ministries that serve children in need in both cases. 

Importance to Religious Liberty:

  • Religious Freedom: The lawsuit claims that HHS, Governor McMaster, and other government officials are violating the Constitution’s Establishment and Equal Protection clauses. The lawsuit hoped to end the partnership with a religious agency and would create fewer choices for potential parents and fewer homes for children. Religious organizations must be free to act according to their faith, including when caring for children in need. The government cannot exclude religious groups by demanding they give up their religious beliefs to continue providing much needed social services
  • Public square: From its earliest days, America has been enriched by religious participation in the public square. Religious ministries, inspired by their beliefs, have often been the first ones to feed, clothe, and shelter their fellow Americans in need. We are all better off when Americans are empowered to live out their faith in a way that helps their fellow man.

Moss v. Spartanburg County School District No. 7

In 2006, South Carolina passed legislation to allow public school students to take outside religious classes and receive elective credits. Thousands of public school children across the nation receive religious education through released-time classes, and the Supreme Court has allowed it since 1952.

The classes are provided off-campus by third parties unaffiliated with the public schools. South Carolina’s Released Time Credit Act (RTCA) made it easier for public schools to accommodate the religious interests of their students. In 2007, Spartanburg County School District No. 7 passed its own policy permitting released-time programs in compliance with state law.

In 2009, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the School District, claiming that the school’s policy violates the Establishment Clause. Becket successfully defended the school district in district court and in appeal, where the Fourth Circuit unanimously upheld the program saying, “[T]he program properly accommodates religion without establishing it, in accordance with the First Amendment.”

In November 2012, the Supreme Court denied FFRF’s final appeal. “This is a big win for public school students and for religious education,” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel at Becket, who argued the case at the Fourth Circuit. “The Supreme Court’s rejection of this case is a blow against anti-religious legal theories that would treat religion with suspicion.”

The court’s decision has implications for released-time programs across South Carolina and throughout the country. It also affirms that private schools and public schools can work with each other for their students’ benefit.