Oregon Officials Don’t Want This Christian Family Adopting Foster Children
ovid was dragging on and on, and for Jessica Bates’ five children — like so many others — the relative isolation of homeschooling was wearing a little thin.
Time for a break. So, one sunny afternoon, Jessica and the children borrowed a truck and headed down to a park near their rural Oregon home for a little kayaking excursion.
The park bordered a reservoir. As they carried the kayaks down to the water, a man approached Jessica and her daughter, Dani. He appeared to have been camping at the reservoir for some time, and Jessica could smell alcohol on his breath. “Come see my puppies!” he said.
A little uncomfortable, Jessica directed Dani to steer around the insistent fellow and make for the water.
“Come see my puppies!” he called again. “We don’t need any puppies right now,” Jessica replied. “Thanks, though!” The family walked quickly toward the water.
The reservoir was pleasant, and the rowing was fun. But when the family returned to their borrowed truck, they found it sagging over a flat tire. With a sigh, they began digging about the vehicle for equipment to fix it. Suddenly, a now-familiar voice startled them from behind. Puppy Man wanted to help change the tire.
He pointed out how uneven the ground was and said he had a much safer jack for the job. He was a retired mechanic, he told them, and quickly proved it — accomplishing in just a few minutes what would’ve taken them quite a while. Talking with him, they decided he really was a nice, if slightly pickled, fellow. He finished with the spare, handed back the tools, and grinned.
“Now,” he said, “you have to come take a puppy.”
He certainly had plenty to choose from: two whole litters, wiggling and wobbly and ready for a home. Miraculously, the children managed to agree on a puppy. It soon joined another dog, two horses, and three cats that together made up the burgeoning Bates menagerie.
Within a year, the new dog, Faith, had two more canines for company. The Bateses, it turns out, have a knack for bringing home creatures who need their loving care.
Unfortunately for thousands of foster children, the state of Oregon doesn’t seem nearly as determined as that fellow in the park, when it comes to finding a good home for those in need of some love and protection.
ood families, more often than not, seem to spring from, well … good families, and Jessica believes she grew up in a great one. Her father was an elementary school teacher and coach, an “always rational” man who taught his children to think about how their words and actions might affect other people. “He modeled for me what it means to be ‘a decent, hard-working person,’” Jessica says. “He was also excellent with budgeting — teachers don’t make a fortune.”
Her mother was a part-time cardiology nurse who became a Christian a few years before Jessica was born.
“My mom had a really strong faith,” Jessica remembers, “and she encouraged our faith, too. She’s why I’m a Christian.” Jessica was still a young girl when her mother led her to walk with the Lord. “It’s been a steady journey since then,” she says.
Jessica grew up in Boise, along with her sister and two brothers, tight-knit and outside whenever they could be. The family enjoyed rollerblading, biking, and basketball. They cheered for each other and the Boise State Broncos — the team with the bright-blue gridiron. As the children reached college age, their dad offered to pay for their first two years’ tuition … provided they attend Boise State. Jessica took him up on the offer, studying radiologic science.
Her faith made the transition to young adulthood with her, becoming stronger and more personal with the passing years.
“Early on, I probably mostly wanted to please my parents,” she remembers. “But my faith really sprouted in middle school,” where the questions posed by a thoughtful youth leader “made me more curious.”
By the time Jessica graduated from the university, her faith was a major factor even in her love life … to the point where she wouldn’t consider seriously dating anyone who didn’t share her deepening convictions. That seemed to pose a challenge when she was finishing her last student ultrasound technologist rotation at a hospital in nearby Ontario, Oregon … and a handsome young radiologic technologist, David Bates, asked her to dinner.
Jessica accepted the invite, guessing he wasn’t believer, but made up her mind to lay her cards on the table as soon as possible. As it turned out, the romantic deck was already stacked; before she could say anything, David explained that he himself was a Christian, and wasn’t interested in seriously dating anyone who didn’t share his faith.
They were married nine months later.
avid had grown up in tiny Vale, Oregon, about an hour west of Boise, and he wanted to raise his family in that same small-town setting. He managed the radiology department at the Ontario hospital, a half hour away, where Jessica worked doing ultrasounds. He was beloved by his coworkers, as well as Jessica, for his strong work ethic, kindness, and great sense of humor.
Like Jessica, he’d grown up in a large family, and the two made a fast start on building one of their own. Soon enough, there were five young ones running about their five-acre property: Dominic, a hard worker like his dad; Emmett, the most independent and extroverted; Dani, kind of heart and able to keep up with the boys; Jordan, active and self-motivated; and Darian, the family comedian.
So she wasn’t surprised, one early Monday morning seven years ago, when David told her he was driving her in to work. Massive snows had swept through the area over the weekend, and he wanted to be sure she got to the hospital safely. The family had celebrated Darian’s fourth birthday the night before. Five minutes from the hospital, a Dodge pickup coming the other way suddenly swung into their lane.
The man driving the truck was fleeing police. He had kidnapped his ex-wife earlier that morning and murdered her moments before at an Ontario service station. He was going 80-90 mph when he swerved to hit the Bateses. The high snowbanks on either side of the road left David with nowhere to go.
Jessica suffered three broken ribs, a fractured hand, a partially collapsed lung, and a concussion. David was pronounced dead at the scene.
he first year, everything felt so unbelievable,” Jessica says. “Like a bad dream I kept waiting to wake up from. It was really overwhelming. Just … shock.”
Her family and David’s stayed close, helping with the children. Friends checked in, brought food, prayed. Jessica discovered anew the blessings of living in a small town. “People in the community were very supportive,” she says — a kind word, a timely gesture. When one of her boys needed help building a derby car for a school project, some men from church came through.
“After the first year, the haze of grief started to dissipate,” she says. “I could look back and reflect, and actually be thankful. That was a definite turning point for me.
“God doesn’t change,” she learned. “He’s reliable, and He’s faithful. He knows what we need, and when we need it.”
Her oldest was just 11 when his father died. So, Jessica faced the mysteries of raising teenagers alone. She tried to imagine how David would respond to some of the challenges, and tried to keep his memory strong and clear and sweet for his children.
“This is never a situation I pictured myself in,” she says. “Never in a million years. I’m still learning. You wonder, ‘Are [the children] telling me everything? Are they telling me the things I need to know?’ They don’t have their dad here to walk them through things. But I’ll tell them, ‘This is what your dad might say.’
“Moms and dads are different. Sometimes, you have to demand respect ... it’s easy for kids to disrespect their mom more than their dad. You have to be able to say, ‘This is enough. Your dad wouldn’t be OK with that. I won’t be, either.’”
She remembers the effort David made to spend time with each of the children, and she tries to do that, too — connecting with them as individuals, one on one. She tries to pass on to them one great lesson she’s learned from her loss: “to value the time you have with the people you love … to be fully present.”
Mostly, though, “I try to remind them of their dad’s love. He loved them so much.” And so, too, she reminds them, does their heavenly Father. “God says He is the Father to the fatherless. We’re just relying on that.”
ne morning, driving to work, Jessica happened to catch a Focus on the Family interview with a single, middle-aged man who had decided to adopt a child out of foster care.
“That’s really cool,” Jessica thought, and really thought nothing more until, a moment later, she seemed to hear — clearly, almost audibly — a statement: “Those are My children.”
“It was the voice of a dad,” Jessica remembers, still marveling a little at the clarity of it. “I felt like it was God speaking to me as a protective father, speaking His love for foster children and orphans. He cares about them.”
She began to feel an urge to do … something. Maybe even adopt a child or two, herself. Siblings, perhaps.
She prayed about that for a few days. The conviction didn’t go away. She broached it to her children, who did something of a collective double-take. “Really, Mom? Really?”
But, one by one — some sooner, some later — the idea caught on with them, too.
Eventually, “they all really rallied around it,” Jessica says — the idea of being big brothers and big sister to a child or two in need of siblings, role models … love.
“They felt compassion. They know what it’s like not to have one parent.”
“This is something God is calling us to do,” decided Emmett, the last to come around to the idea. Still, there was one ironclad condition, at least on Dani’s part. “One of them,” she insisted, “will be a girl.”
ast year, more than 8,000 children were in some way touched by the Oregon foster care system. The system is so hard-up for foster parents — and for space in the program’s residential treatment centers — that the state’s Department of Human Services is placing hundreds of children in temporary, “emergency” facilities — despite a promise to end that practice five years ago. In just the first six months of this year, the state placed dozens of children in hotels; 20 spent more than 60 days in those lodgings. Others spent their nights on a cot or on the floor in a social worker’s office.
Some of these children are as young as 4. And reports of abuse are not uncommon.
The caregivers keep changing, but the message being communicated to the boys and girls never does: nobody wants them, nobody loves them, nobody has a place for them. State officials keep debating the best way to fix the problems in their system, but the only thing everyone seems to agree on is that Oregon needs a lot more healthy, loving families willing to step forward and care for these vulnerable children.
hile Jessica’s first thought had been to take in children from another country, she soon realized the need was just as great closer to home — and that going through the state program would be much more affordable. She applied to become an adoptive parent in Oregon — filling out the paperwork, getting fingerprinted, starting in on the training. What she learned quickly affirmed the divine nudge she’d been feeling ever since that radio broadcast.
“They emphasize that these kids are not well-adjusted,” she says. “They’re going to have problems, baggage, trauma, loss.” The usual approaches to parenting, officials told her, often don’t work in these cases.
“But our family, at least, can relate to that on some level,” Jessica says. “[My children] know what it is to lose someone — and hurt. They know about trauma and grief … but they also know how to move through that. They know what it is to come together and support each other.” Jessica herself realized she could relate to hurting foster children. “Losing a husband is different from losing a father. But, on the other hand — losing is losing.”
Foster program administrators distribute applications to each would-be parent, listing all kinds of potential misbehavior and emotional problems. Which behaviors, the form asks, will the parent “accept” or “not accept”?
That turned out to be a question better asked of the government officials themselves.
ven before starting the application process, Jessica spoke by phone with a state official who asked if she would be willing to take in a child who identified as other than heterosexual.
“Not everyone is OK with that,” she remembers the official saying. “For some people, that makes them uncomfortable or it’s just not something they are willing to do.” Jessica assured her that she would be fine with taking in such a child, which seemed to satisfy the official’s curiosity and open the door to the next steps in the process.
The subject reemerged during a session of Oregon’s Resource and Adoptive Family Training program. The lesson centered on sexual orientation and gender identity. An instructor casually explained that every foster or adoptive parent was expected to encourage the sexual and gender identities of the children entrusted to them. That would also mean supporting the behavior that might come with the child’s choices: using their opposite-sex pronouns, taking them to LGBTQ events like Pride parades, and putting up pink triangles and rainbow flags in the home.
“I didn’t raise any questions during the class,” Jessica says. “But my stomach started churning. I thought, ‘We might have a problem here.’”
She emailed the official responsible for certifying her application, laying out her personal beliefs and religious convictions, and explaining that, as a parent, she would not say or do anything that went against her faith.
“If you believe in biblical sexuality, you understand that we’re made in God’s image,” Jessica says. “He gave us what we have, and our identity is in Him.”
bout a month and a half after Jessica had sent the email, her certifier called with questions. What would Jessica do, she asked, if a child placed in her care chose to identify as transgender and wanted to take cross-sex hormone shots? Would she facilitate those actions? Would she drive the child to these appointments?
“No,” Jessica told her. “I wouldn’t do that for my biological children, either.” She and her family would lovingly take in, accept, and care for any child the state placed with them, Jessica told the woman. But when it came to supporting what she considered self-destructive behavior — “that’s where I draw the line. It’s loving somebody versus supporting behavior that goes against my conscience.”
As far as Jessica was concerned, submitting a young child to the kinds of treatments the certifier was suggesting would mean condoning child abuse. She was also perplexed. Could it be that, in the entire state of Oregon, there wasn’t one sibling pair under the age of 9 available for adoption that didn’t have gender dysphoria issues?
“That’s not the point,” the woman insisted. “Years later, the child may decide they want to transition — and you won’t be supportive.”
Well, then, no, Jessica told her. She wouldn’t comply — not with regard to the state’s demands to violate her beliefs. Then her application would probably be denied, the certifier said. “But if you change your mind at any time, let us know. We can move forward if you change your mind.”
“That’s not right,” says Jessica, who remembers being angry when she hung up the phone. They’re saying you have to support something you completely disagree with. That anyone applying to adopt a child — and who objects to this — is excluded from the process. You either have to lie or abandon your beliefs.”
“This is not OK,” she says — and has to believe other Christians would feel the same way. “If you have children, you have to see that if we allow the state to get away with this kind of behavior … if they can treat the law-abiding citizens like this … if they can force their conditions and beliefs on us … do you realize how big a deal that is? Do you want to live under that kind of system? Do you want your kids living in that kind of world?
“Besides,” Jessica says, “these are God’s kids. I don’t think He’s happy with the law, either.”
Soon, she found herself telling all that to an Alliance Defending Freedom attorney, Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse, who saw at once what she was up against.
“People like Jessica are being screened out,” he says, “based on an ideological litmus test. They’re grilled to see if they agree with the state’s views on these issues, and when they can’t agree to speak the state’s message, they’re penalized because of their conscience-based objection. [These officials] are excluding people because they won’t pledge their allegiance to the state’s ideology.”
It’s a policy that violates the First Amendment of the Constitution at two crucial points, Widmalm-Delphonse says. “One, freedom of speech. They’re asking applicants to speak the state’s message as a condition of being certified — you have to actually mouth the words that the state wants in order to pass through the door. That’s compelled speech.”
He points out that the Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down that kind of government action, most recently in 303 Creative v. Elenis. In that case — successfully argued by ADF attorneys last year — the High Court held that the state of Colorado could not compel a website designer to create websites that would convey a message she didn’t believe in.
Secondly, Widmalm-Delphonse says, the state’s actions undercut the free exercise of religion.
“They’re excluding Christians, as well as Jews and many other people of faith with commonly held beliefs that the Supreme Court has said are based on decent and honorable premises. But the state deems them harmful — so harmful that they have to categorically exclude them from child welfare services. Which is quintessentially religious hostility.”
It’s a prejudice with implications for a lot more people than Jessica, he says. “If they can exclude Jessica from adoption and foster services, just because they don’t like her views, the state can arbitrarily exclude other people who want to live consistently with their faith. And it’s an idea that cuts both ways. A different state might exclude people based on their pro-LGBTQ views, or because they are atheists, or because they married someone of the ‘wrong’ race.
“The government doesn’t get to play favorites that way.”
ADF has asked a U.S. district court judge for a preliminary injunction — one that would allow Jessica’s certification application to continue while her case challenging the state’s policy goes forward.
“Oregon needs resource homes,” Widmalm-Delphonse says. “Jessica feels that she has the resources to care for these children, and I don’t think anyone would doubt that they’ll be better off with her than in the state’s custody.”
essica has been through a lot, raising five kids on her own,” Widmalm-Delphonse says, “and yet, filing this lawsuit didn’t seem to intimidate her. It’s no small thing to put both yourself and your family out there. But the face she puts forward is of a woman who’s composed, calm, and faithful. It’s impressive.”
“I didn’t have a lot of hesitation,” Jessica says. “It was just so wrong. So much in our country and our culture is so wrong, and some of it can only be fixed by suing someone. It’s either that or ignore your conscience — and live a lie.”
Her lawsuit has brought a lot of unexpecteds — including a whirlwind of appearances on national media — but she’s convinced she’s doing what the Lord Himself prompted her to do.
“I like to keep things simple and easy,” she says, “but sometimes He calls us out of that to do something else. You’ve heard that old saying, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans’? I don’t know if I would have pursued adoption on my own. But He’s an incredible God.
“This is on His shoulders,” she says. “He turned my heart this way.”
Thankfully, He turned her children’s hearts with her. “This has been good for their faith, too,” Jessica says. “They’re learning that this is what happens when you do what God tells you. He does things you don’t anticipate — so hang on.
“We’re going to keep our eyes on Him and see where this goes. But …” She smiles. “I don’t think our family’s quite complete yet. There’s still supposed to be a couple more.”