Tennessee Jewish couple sues state after Christian adoption agency denies them services

Tennessee Jewish couple sues state after Christian adoption agency denies them services

Lawsuit claims employee from state-funded program informed couple they would not serve them ‘because of their Jewish faith’

Tennessee Republican governor, Bill Lee.
Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Lee, who is Christian, called defending religious beliefs ‘very important’. Photograph: Troy Stolt/AP

A Jewish couple from Tennessee has filed a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Children’s Services after a state-funded Christian program denied them foster care services for religious reasons.

According to the lawsuit filed on Wednesday, Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram signed up for the foster-parent training class and home-study certification process last January at the Holston United Methodist Home for Children.

On 21 January 2021, the same day the Rutan-Rams were scheduled to begin the foster-parent-training class at Holston, an employee “emailed Ms Rutan-Ram to inform her that Holston would not serve the Rutan-Rams because of the couple’s Jewish faith”.

The employee wrote, “As a Christian organization, our executive team made the decision several years ago to only provide adoption services to prospective adoptive families that share our belief system in order to avoid conflicts or delays with future service delivery.”

In a statement released earlier this week, Gabriel Rutan-Ram criticized the organization, saying, “It’s infuriating to learn our tax dollars are funding discrimination against us. If an agency is getting tax money to provide a service, then everyone should be served – it shouldn’t matter whether you’re Jewish, Catholic or an atheist. We’re all citizens of Tennessee, regardless of our religion.”

In response to the lawsuit, Brad Williams, president and CEO of Holston said that the organization seeks to place children with families that “agree with our statement of faith”.

“Vulnerable children should not lose access to Christian families who choose to become foster or adoptive parents. Holston Home places children with families that agree with our statement of faith, and forcing Holston Home to violate our beliefs and place children in homes that do not share our faith is wrong and contrary to a free society,” Williams said in a statement to NBC News.

In early 2020, the state’s Republican governor, Bill Lee, signed a controversial adoption bill that allows faith-based foster care and adoption programs to use taxpayer money, even if the programs exclude families of various religious backgrounds and sexual orientations.

Lee, who is Christian, called defending religious beliefs “very important”. Other states with similar legislation include South Dakota, Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Michigan, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Southern Division criticized Lee at the time in a statement that said: “Allowing a taxpayer-funded child placement agency to discriminate is outrageous. No child should be denied a loving foster or adoptive home simply because of a prospective parent’s religion, sexual orientation or identity.”

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