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Update: HHS Issues Final Rule Protecting Child Welfare Providers

January 9, 2021

This week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule that would ensure that a broad array of child welfare providers will be able to serve vulnerable children while living out their deeply held religious beliefs. The finalization of this rule is welcome news and will protect these providers’ freedom to serve. This issue has been a top priority for the ERLC the last two years. 

HHS Chief of Staff Brian Harrison said of the rule, “The HHS grants regulation furthers the Department’s commitment to deregulation, protects the free exercise of religion, and relieves burdens on faith-based organizations seeking HHS support for their important work, especially as we seek to maximize opportunities for children to be adopted by loving families.”

When this rule was proposed, Russell Moore wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “the regulation merely ensures that no one is kept from serving, while ending an attempt to stop religious organizations from doing so consistent with their convictions. It’s a welcome statement that the child-welfare system is about the welfare of children—not proxy culture wars.”

Unfortunately, there are ongoing attempts to bar faith-based organizations that hold traditional, orthodox beliefs about marriage from serving vulnerable children. In 2019, the attorney general of Michigan cancelled a contract for foster care and adoption services with St. Vincent Catholic Charities citing a federal rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In 2018, Philadelphia barred Catholic Social Services from placing children in homes unless it changed its teaching on marriage. 

Child welfare providers in both states have sued, arguing that their religious freedom rights prevent the state from excluding them from the child welfare system. Indeed, the Supreme Court is considering the Philadelphia case this term, and the ERLC is hopeful the Court will issue a strong opinion that upholds these child welfare providers’ right to serve. 

The final HHS rule is available online.