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Oregon’s Ban On Christians Adopting Violates The First Amendment — And Good Sense

Religious groups are being shut out of child welfare programs simply because of their beliefs about the body and our human identities.


Christians have a long history of caring for children in need. The Christian apologist St. Basil the Great opened what is regarded as one of the first orphanages in the fourth century. He dedicated a wing of his monastery to raising and educating orphans where the monastics acted as “surrogate parents.” And here, in what would later become America, some of the first orphanages were founded in the early 18th century by Catholic nuns and Lutherans.

Now, Christians are being shut out of child welfare programs altogether — simply because of their beliefs about the body and our human identities.

That’s what happened to Jessica Bates, and that’s why my firm, Alliance Defending Freedom, is standing with her to challenge an unconstitutional Oregon policy in court.

Jessica is a mother of five children, a part-time ultrasound technician, and a devout Christian. She’s also a widow. Her late husband died in a car wreck several years ago. Then, after hearing a broadcast about one man’s adoption story, she felt convicted. The Bible describes God as a Father to the fatherless and a protector of widows. He had provided for her. Now she felt called to extend that same love to a child in need.

But when Jessica applied to Oregon’s Department of Human Services, the state put her through an ideological litmus test — one that ferrets out people of faith who disagree with the state’s views on the metaphysical differences between men and women.

Violating Christians’ Rights

Specifically, state regulations require prospective caregivers to demonstrate that they will “accept” and “support” a child’s sexual orientation and so-called gender identity and expression. This means caregivers must agree to use preferred pronouns, take their children to events such as LGBT pride parades, and even take young children to receive hormone shots as part of what the left calls “gender transition.” When Jessica explained that she would love any child, but she just couldn’t do anything that went against her Christian faith, the state turned her away. According to Oregon, people with traditional religious beliefs about our sexual differences are unfit to care for children.

This policy violates the First Amendment. It categorically excludes entire religious communities from the adoption and foster-care process, violating our constitutional protections for religious liberty. It also violates our rights to free speech by compelling Jessica to affirm by word and deed her beliefs in the state’s ideology.

Policy Hurts Children

Some may argue Oregon is just trying to protect children. Far from it. Forcing Jessica to agree to use preferred pronouns or take a child to get cross-sex hormones is entirely hypothetical — meant to test Jessica’s fealty to the state’s views. Jessica even asked if she could be considered for children who did not struggle with gender dysphoria, but still the state said no.

Moreover, the state excludes people of faith not just from adoption but from all of its child welfare programs. That means an Orthodox Jewish family can’t adopt a Jewish child who attends their temple. And a devout Catholic family can’t provide respite care for newborns who don’t have any concept of so-called gender identity. Oregon seeks to enforce its ideology on everyone, no matter how speculative its concerns are.

Not only is Oregon’s policy illegal, but it’s also unjust and hurtful. Nearly 8,000 children touched Oregon’s foster-care system last year, and for hundreds of these children, reunification was not an option. The state needs caregivers like Jessica.

Christians have been caring for orphans long before there were departments of human services. And even today, practicing Christians are twice as likely as the general public to adopt children. Oregon may believe it can get along without such Christians now. But do the children in Oregon’s system agree?

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