One of the things that distinguishes today’s leftist politicians from old-fashioned liberals is that they have no problem using children as political pawns. In a growing number of “blue states” and under proposed regulations from the Biden administration, the number of homes open to children in need of foster care or adoption is being limited. Why? Because people who want to look after these children are being bombarded with hypothetical questions about transgender issues and must pass the “pronoun test” — that is, agree to speak in the jargon of radical gender ideology. A horrible case exemplifying this has come to light in Oregon, but fortunately, a prospective adoptive mother is pushing back.
Jessica Bates, a widowed mother of five, feels called by her Christian faith to open her home to adoption. She has offered to adopt a young sibling pair under the age of 10 and has met all Oregon’s standards for adoptive homes — except for one hypothetical. She must agree to “affirm” the so-called gender identity, as defined by the state, of a hypothetical infant or child that may one day be placed in her care.
During state-directed training in which Jessica participated as part of the application process, she was told she must agree to use a child’s “preferred pronouns,” take a child to gay pride parades, and allow a child to undergo dangerous pharmaceutical interventions such as puberty blockers and hormone shots. When she declined to wave all these gender ideology flags, she was banned from adoption.
Represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, Jessica went to court, claiming Oregon’s policy violates her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, association, and assembly; her right to the free exercise of religion; and equal protection under the law. She also requested a preliminary injunction.
The district court denied Jessica’s motion for preliminary injunction, dismissing important First Amendment precedent. Jessica has appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing, “Oregon [cannot] justify excluding as prospective parents the hundreds of thousands of Oregonians” who share her religious views. Her brief also points out, “Oregon’s categorical exclusion uses a sledgehammer when the First Amendment demands a scalpel,” and that even the federal government and most other states “avoid categorical exclusions and match specific children with compatible families.”
Another Foster Family’s Experience
Four other foster care and adoptive parents of faith have shared their own powerful stories in a friend of the court brief in support of Jessica. The panel should pay especially close attention to the experience of Nancy Harmon, who has fostered about 50 children with her husband, Jay.
In December 2021, the Harmons took in three sisters aged 9, 10, and 11. The oldest girl had no sooner started unpacking her clothes before she announced: “My pronouns are they/them. I’m bisexual, emo, gothic, pagan, witch.” And she then looked at Nancy and asked, “Will you adopt me?” Nancy recalls that she and her biological daughter, aged 14 at the time, looked at each other with wide eyes. “We just said, ‘Wow.’ We didn’t really know how to react to that. And we just continued unpacking her clothes with her.”
The three girls had previously suffered abuse and were not given any education during the Covid-19 pandemic. Nancy recalls one of the biggest challenges was that “they had lived in a home where they felt that they were not loved, and they would go to a place in their mind to cope. … We had to help them discern what is real and what is fictional. And so, we met with a lot of mental health professionals, we still do today, in helping them walk through that.”
The county later asked the Harmons if they were willing to adopt the three sisters. The Harmons prayed about it and agreed to adopt the girls. A few weeks later, though, Nancy opened an email accidentally sent to her. In it, the adoption agency asked the county when the Harmons would be told they were not the “best option to adopt the girls.” Nancy was shocked. She immediately called the case manager from the county who, Nancy says, explained that they had come to this decision after several meetings with the staff and the adoption agency “because of our religious beliefs.” Nancy adds: “Not once did they ask us what our beliefs are. They made an assumption.”
At one point, the county proposed the Harmons adopt the two younger girls while their older sister be placed with an “affirming” family. Fortunately, when the girls’ therapist recommended it was in their best interest that the girls stay together, the county eventually changed its position, instead recommending the Harmons adopt all three girls.
When Nancy told the girls that the Harmons would be adopting them, “They were all excited. They all had smiles on their faces. They were jumping up and down.” As for the eldest, Nancy says that once the decision was made, “all of the negative behaviors left, the anxiety left. Her mental health case manager is thinking about just closing her case, that she doesn’t need it anymore.” All three were formally adopted this past December.
Throughout all of this mess, Nancy worked out compromises with the eldest girl; she didn’t use language that would offend the impressionable girl, nor did she indulge her fantasies by using pronouns that compromised her beliefs about people’s God-given sex. In other words, she and her husband demonstrated that confused children will not be harmed by parents with a traditional point of view.
Does the Court Know These Kids’ Needs?
When Nancy was asked what the court should know when considering Jessica Bates’ case, she responded: “I would ask a question. Do you really know the children and their needs? Do you know their stories? Have you walked their paths? Do you know why they are the way that they are?” She worries that the authorities in the Bates case have been guided by the ideology associated with pronouns and gender identity. As she puts it: “There’s way more to these kids than that. To not allow someone to adopt someone on the basis of a pronoun is doing the children an injustice.”
The assumption that children in similar situations would be harmed by foster parents like Nancy is not just the dogma of a temporarily fashionable ideology; it’s also a deplorable expression of religious bigotry. Wonderful, self-sacrificing people shouldn’t have to face stressful and insulting hurdles placed in their way by ill-informed culture warriors on the public payroll.
A victory for Jessica Bates will ease the plight of children deprived of a safe home, of whom there are ever-growing numbers, and put a stop to unconstitutional restrictions on foster care and adoption. If the notoriously liberal Ninth Circuit is unwilling to vindicate Jessica, the Supreme Court must.