KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A couple is suing Tennessee's Department of Children’s Services, saying a state-sponsored Christian-based adoption agency refused to help them because they are Jewish.
It's the state’s first lawsuit to challenge a new law that allows religious adoption agencies to deny service to families whose religious or moral beliefs aren't in sync with the provider's, the family's attorney told the Knoxville News Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network, on Wednesday.
The adoption agency, the Holston United Methodist Home for Children based in Greeneville, Tennessee, denied Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram from state-mandated foster-parent training and a home-study certification as they attempted to adopt a child from Florida last year, the Rutan-Rams say.
“I felt like I’d been punched in the gut,” Elizabeth Rutan-Ram said in a statement. “It was the first time I felt discriminated against because I am Jewish. It was very shocking. 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 Rutan-Rams are fostering and hope to adopt a teenage girl through a separate agency, Luchenitser told Knox News, and they also would like to adopt another child in the future.
The Holston United Methodist Home for Children is no longer an arm of the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church. A spokesperson for the conference directed questions to the Home for Children.
The Home for Children’s president and CEO, Bradley Williams, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Instead, a receptionist at Home for Children told Knox News to email the organization's law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom. Representatives of the firm did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
In December, the Greenville-based Holston sued the Biden administration for regulations that prohibit discrimination in programs funded by U.S. Health and Human Services grants “on the basis of religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and same-sex marriage status,” saying it violates its First Amendment rights.
In that lawsuit, the organization said it receives public money to provide foster care placement and training, among other services, for the state Department of Children's Services.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by the nonprofit Americans United for Separation of Church and State on behalf of the Rutan-Rams in Davidson County Chancery Court. A spokesperson for DCS declined to comment on pending litigation, as did a spokesperson from the state Attorney General’s Office.
The lawsuit comes nearly two years to the date that Gov. Bill Lee signed into law a measure that allows religious adoption agencies to deny service to same-sex couples. The law allows adoption agencies to refuse to participate in a child placement if doing so would "violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies."
Public funds should "never be used for religious discrimination," said Alex J. Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal director at Americans United.
"The law should never create obstacles that keep loving parents from taking care of children who need a home," Luchenitser said. "That should certainly never occur because of religious discrimination."
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee sued after Christian adoption agency refused Jewish couple