A Democratic congressman compared the Trump administration’s religious liberty protections to Jim Crow era laws.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D., Va.) asked Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar if religious foster care agencies had the right to discriminate under conscience protections implemented by the administration. Scott repeatedly asked Azar if those agencies had a free pass on requirements to abide by civil rights laws at a Wednesday hearing before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
"In the Loving v. Virginia case, the trial court justified the ban on interracial marriages by saying that ‘Almighty God created races and placed them on certain continents, but for the intervention of this arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages,'" Scott said. He went on to ask Azar if foster care agencies had the ability to deny interracial placements based on the trial court's ruling from almost 60 years ago.
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Azar responded by saying that Congress had already put in place antidiscrimination policies that would be strictly enforced. He indicated that faith-based adoption organizations had provided homes for poor and underprivileged children for decades. Preventing religious organizations from participating in adoption or foster care programs would punish children in poverty.
"We don't believe this is an ‘either-or' situation as you phrase it—of this discrimination versus that discrimination," Azar said, adding that the agency would work to balance religious liberty to "allow states to have the ability to use a variety of organizations to ensure the safety of protecting children."
The Trump administration implemented a "conscience and religious freedom" division within the Department of Health and Human Services in January. Pro-life and religious liberty groups have praised the administration's efforts to protect religious freedom, while many LGBT advocates say their concerns are being ignored.
Azar's testimony came on the heels of a decision by the city of Philadelphia to cut off Catholic Social Services from foster family placements because of its religious beliefs about marriage despite the city's claim that it faces a massive shortage of available foster homes. The organization and several foster parents filed a lawsuit May 14 against the city alleging religious discrimination, pointing to the fact that no complaints had been lodged against the charity. Their lawyer, Becket Fund president Mark Rienzi, said Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney and his administration were putting their political goals before the needs of children.
"The city is leaving homes empty, in order to pick this culture war for political reasons," Rienzi told the Washington Free Beacon at the time of the suit. "It's really mind blowing to think they'd do this to kids. That's just vindictive."
Scott's exchange also followed a major victory for religious liberty before the Supreme Court earlier this week. The court ruled 7-2 on Monday that Colorado regulators unconstitutionally discriminated against the religious beliefs of a Christian baker who declined to participate in a gay wedding. Hiram Sasser, general counsel for First Liberty Institute, said Scott's attitude toward religious liberty mirrored that of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
"It's a shame that Rep. Scott didn't get the message that the Supreme Court sent to the nation earlier this week," Sasser said. "The Constitution leaves no room for government hostility to religion."