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Gov. Henry McMaster. File/AP

COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster is coming to the defense of an Upstate foster care agency that requires participating families to be Christian.

McMaster issued an executive order Tuesday that allows foster care providers to discriminate based on religion without losing their license.

For nearly three decades, Greenville-based Miracle Hill Ministries has only allowed foster children to be placed with parents who share the organization's Christian beliefs. 

That practice has come under scrutiny since a new regulation took effect toward the end of the Obama administration, which prevented publicly licensed and funded foster care agencies from servicing specific religions.

Under previous regulations, foster care agencies were only prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin.

The executive order comes three weeks after McMaster sent a letter to Reid Lehman, the executive director of Miracle Hill, assuring him that he supports religious freedom for foster care providers.

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"It is important that religious organizations not be required to sacrifice the tenets of their faith in order to serve the children of South Carolina," McMaster wrote in the letter.

McMaster has also written to top officials in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asking them to exempt South Carolina from the requirement.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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