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The state of Oregon officially holds that Christians who believe in biblical teachings on sexuality are unfit to adopt foster children, according to a lawsuit filed this week by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of a woman who is seeking to adopt from the foster system but who was turned down for refusing to agree with Oregon’s requirement that applicants embrace LGBTQ tenets.
Jessica Bates, a mother of five children ages 10 to 17, lost her husband in a car accident in 2017. Although his passing has been hard for Bates, she has found peace through God, and has continued to raise her children in her devout Christian faith. The family prays and participates in Bible study and daily devotions together and, in addition to regularly attending church services, the children are all involved in youth group.
One day while listening to a Christian broadcast about a man who adopted a child from foster care, Jessica felt God speaking to her, telling her to adopt a child. She applied to adopt through the foster care system run by the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS), indicating that she was even willing to adopt a pair of siblings, who are typically much harder to place.
After several months of going through the application process, she finally completed the Resource and Adoptive Family Training (RAFT) in July 2022. During the training she was told that prospective parents must accept and support a child’s gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Her instructor informed the group that parents are required to use a child’s preferred pronouns and affirm their gender identity. Bates was given a handout saying that parents should “celebrate diversity in all forms,” and “provide access to a variety of books, movies, and materials, including those that positively represent same-gender relationships.”
The handout also tells prospective caregivers that they should display “‘hate-free zone’ signs or symbols indicating and[sic] LGBTQ-affirming environment (e.g. pink triangle, rainbow, or ally flag)” even if a child in their care does not identify as LGBT. Applicants are also told not to require children to attend activities that are unsupportive of people who are LGBT. They are instead told to take the children to LGBT events, such as gay pride parades.
On August 9, Jessica forwarded her training completion to Cecilia Garcia, the certification officer assigned to her. Garcia responded enthusiastically, asking how it went. At that point, Bates informed her that though she would love and accept any child placed in her care, she would not, due to her religious beliefs, encourage them in behavior that promotes the belief that children can change their gender. After over a month of not responding to Bates’ email and a follow-up email, Garcia informed Jessica that she was not eligible to adopt because of her refusal to affirm a child’s gender identity or follow the requisite LGBT requirements.
Bates asked if she could adopt a pair of siblings under the age of nine who did not express a transgender belief. She was informed that she could not because a child may express gender dysphoria later in life. Garcia told her that if she changed her mind and agreed to follow the state’s policy, DHS would likely proceed with her application.
Oregon requires any applicant to participate in the foster care system to agree with its view on sexual orientation and gender identity, not just those who are adoptive parents. According to the complaint, Jessica is not even allowed to provide short-term emergency care, babysit a child, or care for infants.
In response, this past Monday, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on Jessica’s behalf in U.S. District Court against Oregon DHS officials, as well as Cecilia Garcia.
The suit claims that under Oregon DHS statutes, almost any person who disagrees with the state on sexual orientation or gender identity will not be allowed to adopt, including a person adopting a child from a close family friend or in a situation where the mother wants someone from her church, temple, or mosque to adopt her child.
ADF argues that the agency violated not only Bates’ First Amendment rights to free speech, religious liberty, and association, but also the Equal Protection Clause under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Regarding the latter violation, ADF claims that the Oregon DHS does not enforce its rules evenly. Prospective caregivers fill out a placement preference form that allows them to assert a preference based on age. Potential parents are also able to list a preference based on sex, saying that they are not interested in adopting a boy or a girl. Oregon DHS also certifies prospective caregivers who do not support a child’s spiritual beliefs, or even those who are not open to caring for certain children based on religion, despite the requirement that a parent accept and support a child’s spiritual views.
This is allowed even though Bates’s rejection letter said that the department “expects every applicant to be open to any child regardless of race, ethnicity and cultural identity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”
ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs issued a statement, saying,
“Oregon’s policy amounts to an ideological litmus test: people who hold secular or ‘progressive’ views on sexual orientation and gender identity are eligible to participate in child welfare programs, while people of faith with religiously informed views are disqualified because they don’t agree with the state’s orthodoxy.”
Based on the official correspondence sent by the agency, this is an obvious instance of religious discrimination by the government. Remember that those on the left often rail against religious foster care and adoption agencies that don’t let LGBT people adopt through their agencies due to their beliefs. The religious organizations, they claim, are stopping people from helping children in need when the number of children in foster care is high. But private religious organizations are allowed to discriminate based on their religious views and LGBT people are still able to adopt children through the government.
However, the government — even one like Oregon that clearly adheres to a left-wing ideology — is not allowed to discriminate against Americans because of their religious beliefs. Oregon’s policy appears to show that any American of any religious belief — not just Christians — who disagrees with the state will be discriminatorily denied the right to adopt a child.
But it is because of Bates’s religious beliefs that she is inspired to try to help not just one child, but a sibling pair. As a result of her biblical worldview, Bates believes that Christians should care for orphans and widows — even when you are a widow yourself and already caring for five fatherless children.
James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Jessica also knows that as a believer in Christ, God has adopted her as His child and cared for her (John 1:12); she wants to bestow that love and care on two children as a result of what He has done for her.
Jessica dissented from the state belief system so to the state she is a danger and should not be allowed to raise children who might also oppose the state. Such a practice is not only anathema to the Constitution, it is dangerous.
Christians have long been inspired by their Christian faith to help those in need and to positively influence the culture, whether it is feeding the hungry, helping the homeless and destitute, visiting prisoners, adopting orphans, or providing truth, love, and hope to a lost world.
Oregon is not only infringing on Jessica Bates’s right to freely exercise her religious beliefs but it is also effectively establishing a state religion — complete with statements of faith and doctrine. Federal courts must strike down this policy quickly and resoundingly or like-minded governments will accelerate their efforts to exclude Christians from all aspects of public life and culture for the simple reason that they won’t adhere to a man-made secular religion.
If they don’t, Christians will suffer, of course, but, worse, the effects on society and those who rely on Christian generosity and love will be catastrophic — not the least of which will be a sibling pair in Oregon who will either be left to languish in the foster care system or indoctrinated into a new and extremely dangerous state-run cult.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.