USA Today: Can a state allow an adoption agency to discriminate on the basis of religion?

I’m always amazed how, once news organizations discover an ultra-conservative religious group, they treat it as so much fresh meat to be chomped on again and again.

Such is Miracle Hill, a Christian foster care and adoption agency in South Carolina that is getting endless coverage about how biased and crazy it is to only allow Protestants to adopt kids through this organization.

I wrote about them last fall when other media were going after Miracle Hill and how the local paper, The Greenville News, explained there are 10 other adoption agencies in the state that take all comers.

Yet, in USA Today, we’re hearing about Miracle Hill again, this time the target of the ire of a Catholic mom.

Aimee Maddonna, 34, a South Carolina mother of three, was turned away by a state-funded foster care agency because she is Catholic.

Maddonna went to Miracle Hill Ministries in Greenville, the state’s largest foster care outlet, asking to volunteer in hopes of one day becoming a foster parent. But the initial screening was cut short after she was asked the name of her church.

“I said, ‘Our Lady of the Rosary,’ and her exact words were, ‘You sound like you’d be the perfect mentor, but we only accept Protestant Christians.”

“Saying that the majority of the population is not suitable only because of their religion ... that’s archaic,” Maddonna said.

There are serious church-state issues here, since state funds are involved. It’s one thing to operate as a nonprofit and something else to be a nonprofit that gets tax dollars. The question is whether there are other state-assisted nonprofits with policies that affect who can, and who cannot, use their services. Are religious doctrines uniquely bad?

Reading further down, we get to the trends the article is most concerned about. This passage is long, but stay with me.

There are at least nine other states that have passed laws allowing child placement agencies to turn away anyone who doesn’t match their religious beliefs or moral convictions, including same-sex couples. Eight of these states have passed such exemptions in just the past three years. Among them: Texas, Alabama, Michigan and South Dakota.

And the efforts have been broader still. An analysis using the Center for Public Integrity’s model legislation tracker, which analyzed nearly a million bills to detect common language and identify model legislation, found 66 bills in 21 states and the U.S. House of Representatives with model language matching the first of these exemption bills passed 16 years ago in North Dakota.

The copycat language used in many of these bills appears rooted in a broader legislative playbook known as Project Blitz, first made available to the public in 2017 by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, a non-profit religious organization with hundreds of lawmaker-members in Congress and statehouses nationwide.

The latest version of the playbook, from 2018, includes 148 pages of strategy, talking points and model language for legislators designed to push laws that instill Judeo-Christian principles in public schools and other governmental institutions.

The Center for Public Integrity found more than 500 bills introduced in 49 states this past decade matching the variety of model bills found in the playbook, more than 60 of which were signed into law. The research into those bills is part of a larger investigation by the center and USA TODAY of how model legislation is being deployed in statehouses nationwide.

So now we know where this piece is headed. Take a look at the four bylines atop this piece. The first two are from the Center for Public Integrity. The other two come from reporters working for Gannett (the owner of USA Today) papers.

Now the CPI is an advocacy group. Several years ago, Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post detailed problems she had with CPI branding their work as journalism when it clearly was advocacy. CPI includes, among its funders, George Soros (via his foundations).

So we have a piece taking up major real estate in USA Today that is written by an advocacy group with the other two reporters’ bylines there — perhaps as mere window dressing. All of us should have a problem with that. Would USA Today accept a major investigative piece written by the Heritage Foundation? No. Then why is something equally as opinionated coming from the left acceptable?

The article continues with more content running on parallel tracks, explaining how a blitz of legislation on the state level is cut and pasted from older, successful bills. These laws make sure “In God We Trust” is on public buildings, mandate that states issue proclamations in favor of religious freedom and allow faith-based adoption agencies to discriminate on the basis of religious practice.

At the same time, it follows the adoption journey of Aimee Maddonna.

The article’s chief point is that while Miracle Hill is allowed to discriminate, it receives $600,000 from the state annually for its services. Maddonna is suing the state for allowing that state of affairs to continue.

Not all states do so. One faith-based agency is suing the state of Michigan for not allowing them to discriminate. The video with this post is about this issue.

The article also touches on a Jewish family that wanted to be a foster family through Miracle Hill, only to learn early on in the progress that they could not. It then adds that it took the family two more years before they could find a child through another agency in the state — but is that something to blame Miracle Hill for? It’s not like the family spend months applying to Miracle Hill only to find out they didn’t qualify.

This family just happened to learn they’d be rejected because of their faith, so I assume they quickly moved on to another agency. To connect Miracle Hill with this family’s difficulties is a stretch.

This Daily Beast piece, which contains much of the same info as the USA Today article, claims the real issue is gay couples and that, in the rush to deny same-sex couples the right to adopt, conservatives have thrown an overly broad net that’s capturing straight Jews and Catholics. So is the real issue gay couples adopting and the religious freedom concerns — concepts of freedom of association — are merely a dodge?

You could turn that around a bit. Are these news organizations interested at all in the religious rights part of this argument or is their sole concern with homosexual adoptive parents?

There’s that journalism question GetReligion keeps asking: Could the writers of this piece have found some intelligent information and commentary from the other side of this debate and quoted it?

They didn’t, so now the narrative is going to shift to religious freedom being merely an excuse for homophobia.

That’s why Catholic adoption agencies have had to shut their doors, rather than violate Catholic doctrine. The CPI folks didn’t mention how some religious agencies have been forced to close their doors and whether that is changing under President Donald Trump. But that would involve believing that the other side has a point of view worth tracking down and reporting.

Believing that is apparently too much to ask of the Center for Public Integrity folks. When you can play the victim card again and again, why bother shuffling the deck?

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