A foster agency in Tennessee is suing the Biden administration, claiming that its religious freedom will be threatened if it is forced to place children with LGBTQ prospective foster or adoptive parents.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it was rescinding waivers granted by the Trump administration to three states — South Carolina, Texas, and Michigan — allowing faith-based foster care and adoption agencies that contract with state agencies to continue receiving federal money despite discriminating against prospective parents on the basis of the agencies’ purported religious beliefs.
But the Holston United Methodist Home for Children, based in Greenville, Tennessee, argues that rules barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in foster programs that receive federal money will “substantially burden” its ability to exercise its religious beliefs by forcing them to place children with same-sex couples.
The Trump administration had previously carved out waivers granting exemptions to religiously-affiliated child welfare agencies, on the premise that not being allowed to discriminate against prospective parents violated their rights under both the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Holston, which works throughout eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia, maintains that it is in the best interests of children to be placed in Christian homes headed by married, heterosexual couples.
The agency claims that by engaging in child placement services, it is engaging in a form of protected speech, motivated by their religious beliefs, about the “suitability of the homes and relationships of prospective parents for the care and upbringing of children.”
Lawyers with Alliance Defending Freedom, the anti-LGBTQ legal advocacy organization, argue that the Biden administration has “no compelling, significant, or even valid interest to impose this burden on Holston Home’s religious exercise.”
“Holston Home is a force for good, living out the words of Christ to care for children and ‘the least of these.’ It is vital that Holston Home, as a religious organization, remains free to continue placing at-risk children in loving, Christian families, according to its deeply held beliefs, without fear of government punishment,” ADF Senior Counsel Matt Bowman said in a statement.
Related: Nation’s largest evangelical adoption agency will allow children to be placed with LGBTQ couples
“The Biden administration is wrong to remove religious exemptions to its unlawful grants rule,” Bowman continued. “This leaves Holston Home and other faith-based nonprofits with an untenable choice to violate their religious beliefs or lose critical grants necessary to their operations, which benefit everyone, including the government.
“The Supreme Court has recognized the harms to children and society of expelling faith-based agencies from foster care and adoption programs, and now it’s time this administration follows suit by respecting Holston Home’s constitutionally protected religious freedoms and repealing this illegal rule.”
LGBTQ advocates counter that embracing Holston Home’s view of religious freedom places the beliefs and desires of adults over the needs of the children in their care, in whose best interests the agency purports to be acting.
Currently, there is no federal law banning adoption or foster agencies from actively discriminating against LGBTQ prospective parents or same-sex couples.
One such proposed law, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, seeks to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in adoption and foster care, but has never received a vote in Congress.
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