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A Tennessee couple is suing the state’s children’s services department after a Christian-based adoption agency, which is partially funded by the state, refused to assist them because they are Jewish.
Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram said they were denied state-mandated foster parent training and a home-study certification by Holston United Methodist Home for Children in Greeneville, Tennessee, when they attempted to adopt last year.
On Wednesday, they filed the first lawsuit challenging a law signed by Governor Bill Lee two years ago that allows religion-based adoption agencies to reject families whose religious or moral beliefs don’t align with theirs.
The state law allows adoption agencies to reject services if doing so would ‘violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.’
Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram, a Tennessee couple, allege in a lawsuit that a Christian adoption agency rejected their request for services to help them become foster parents because they are Jewish
Holston United Methodist Home for Children said in a lawsuit against the Biden administration that it receives government money to help provide services to aspiring foster parents
The lawsuit is the first to challenge legislation that Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (pictured) signed into law two years ago that allowed adoption agencies to reject services to those who don’t align with their religious or moral beliefs
Holston recently acknowledged receiving public money to offer foster care placement and training for the Tennessee Department of Child Services when it sued the Biden administration last December over new federal regulations.
Those regulations prohibit government-funded health and human services programs from discriminating based on religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or same sex marriage status.
The Rutan-Rams, who discovered they could not have biological children, called the rejection on the basis of their religion a punch in the gut.
‘It was the first time I felt discriminated against because I am Jewish. It was very shocking,’ Elizabeth Rutan-Ram said. ‘And it was very hurtful that the agency seemed to think that a child would be better off in state custody than with a loving family like us.’
The couple said initially Holston told them it would help with a child in Florida who they were excited to foster and eventually adopt.
On the day they were set to begin training, according to the lawsuit, they were told Holston only served families who share their belief system.
A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Child Services and the Tennessee Attorney General’s offices have declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Bradley Williams is the President and CEO of Holston United Methodist Home for Children, which says it is ‘guided by principles that have been passed down throughout the history of this ministry’
The Rutan-Rams have since become foster parents but have plans to adopt in the future. Elizabeth Rutan-Ram said this was the first time she’d ever felt discriminated against for being Jewish
Eventually, the Rutan-Rams fostered a teenage girl with plans to adopt her in the future.
Holston President and CEO Bradley Williams has not responded to requests for comment.
Alex J. Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal director at Americans United, put out a statement on behalf of the Rutan-Ram family.
‘The Tennessee Constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, promises religious freedom and equality for everyone,’ he said. ‘Tennessee is reneging on that promise by allowing a taxpayer-funded agency to discriminate against Liz and Gabe Rutan-Ram because they are Jews.’
Luchenitser adds that the Rutan-Ram family hopes to adopt more children in the future.
Rev. Elaine Blanchard (pictured), a minister with the Disciples of Christ Church, has joined the Rutan-Rams in their lawsuit
Dr. Larry Blanz (pictured), a psychologist who claims 40 years of experience with foster parents and children, is also a part of the suit
Four local religious leaders – interfaith pastor Rev. Jeannie Alexander, Disciples of Christ minister Rev. Elaine Blanchard, Chirstian minister Rev. Alaina Cobb, Unitarian Rev. Denise Gyauch – have joined the Rutan-Rams in the suit.
Also signed on is Larry Blanz, a retired psychologist with experience working with foster parents and children, and Mirabelle Steodter, treasurer for the Tennessee chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.