Skip to content

Religious Discrimination Hurts Kids Waiting to Be Adopted

Some states are denying people of faith from adopting and fostering children because of their beliefs about gender and sexuality.
Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse
Jessica Bates and her children are seen playing cards at home

In the United States, approximately 391,000 children are in foster care. Of those, over 113,000 children are waiting to be adopted. With such a great need, you would think that all 50 states would be eager to place children with loving and qualified parents. But this isn’t so.

The problem? Some state officials are imposing an ideological litmus test to determine who is “qualified” to parent a child. In some states, if you don’t agree to adopt the government’s views on gender and sexuality, your application to adopt a child will be denied.

This is exactly what happened to Jessica Bates.

Jessica’s story

Jessica is a mother of five who lives in rural Oregon. Tragically, she lost her husband in a car crash in 2017. Leaning on her faith, family, and friends, she and her family persevered through the life-changing event.

Then, one day, Jessica was listening to a Christian broadcast about a man who had adopted a child from foster care. After listening to that radio program, she recalls, “I couldn’t shake what I heard. Even though I’m raising five children of my own, I knew my family could help children find a forever home.” So she decided to pursue adoption.

Jessica initially sailed through Oregon’s adoption application process. But during the training course, the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) explained that people seeking to adopt must “respect, accept, and support” the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of any child whom ODHS could place in their home. This required applicants to agree to use a hypothetical child’s preferred pronouns, take a child to “LGBTQ community events” like Pride parades, and facilitate a child’s access to dangerous and potentially sterilizing pharmaceutical interventions like puberty blockers and cross-sex hormone shots.

Though Jessica would happily love and accept any child—regardless of how they identify—she could not agree to say or do anything that violates her faith.

When Jessica politely explained her concerns to her certifier, state officials presented her with a choice: abandon your religious convictions or forgo the possibility of ever adopting a child. When Jessica stood her ground, the state denied her application—categorically excluding her from child welfare programs.

Jessica should not have to choose between violating her religious beliefs or forgoing the opportunity to adopt, which is why Alliance Defending Freedom is representing her in a lawsuit against ODHS officials.

More government discrimination in adoption against people of faith

Unfortunately, Jessica’s case isn’t an isolated incident.

In an ongoing lawsuit against New Jersey state officials, Michael and Jennifer Lasche allege that the state removed the couple’s foster child and revoked their foster care license because it did not like their religious beliefs about family, marriage, and sexuality. In 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled in favor of the Lasches, recognizing that the Constitution protects the right of foster parents to share their religious beliefs, and allowing the couple to continue their case in the district court.

In a different lawsuit against Washington state, another couple expressed interest in fostering and potentially adopting their infant great-granddaughter, and the state similarly denied their application because of their religious beliefs. The couple, who are Seventh-Day Adventists, stated they would love their great-granddaughter unconditionally. But state officials still posed a series of hypothetical questions to test their beliefs on sexual and gender identities, even though their great-granddaughter was less than a year old. When the couple explained that their faith did not allow them to use preferred pronouns or take a child for hormone treatments, Washington state officials labeled them unfit to adopt.

Thankfully, a federal judge ruled for the couple, writing that “a foster care applicant’s answers to LGBTQ+ hypotheticals cannot serve as the sole determining factor when an applicant expresses sincerely held religious beliefs” and the state “must not discriminate against a foster care applicant based on their creed.”

In addition to discriminating against people of faith, government officials have also targeted faith-based adoption agencies. ADF has represented one such provider, New Hope Family Services, in two lawsuits against separate New York state agencies. The state had targeted New Hope because of its practice of only placing children in homes with a married mother and father. ADF won both lawsuits, protecting New Hope’s ability to place infants in permanent homes without government harassment.

Excluding people of faith from adoption hurts children

Imposing radical gender ideology as a prerequisite for adoption only hurts children. Policies like Oregon’s and Washington’s categorically exclude people of faith (including many Christians, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and others) who disagree with the government’s view of sex and gender based on their religious beliefs.

Yet people of faith disproportionately seek to adopt and care for children in need. That has long been the case. The Bible commands Christians to care for the orphan (James 1:27), and Christian and other faith groups started some of this country’s first orphanages. Even today, according to one survey, practicing U.S. Christians are more than twice as likely to adopt than the general population.

Even beyond faith groups, many Americans have beliefs similar to or sympathetic to Jessica’s when it comes to the human body. Excluding those who believe in biblical marriage or biological sex only takes resources away from children who need it the most—children who are being housed in hotels, child welfare offices, emergency rooms, and homeless shelters (including in Oregon) for lack of loving homes or other facilities.

Beyond the effect on children, these policies also violate the First Amendment rights of would-be adoptive parents. They categorically exclude entire religious communities from the adoption and foster-care process based on their religious beliefs on gender and sexuality, violating constitutional protections for religious freedom and expression. These policies also violate the right to free speech by compelling parents to affirm the state’s ideology in word and deed.

These policies need to end. No one should be forced to adopt a state’s radical gender ideology to give children a loving home.

Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse
Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse
Legal Counsel
Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse serves as legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a member of the Center for Conscience Initiatives.