Jewish Couple Sue Over Thwarted Adoption: 'Punched in the Gut'

Tenn. husband and wife say Christian-based agency wouldn't help them due to their religion
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 21, 2022 8:54 AM CST
Jewish Couple Sue Over Thwarted Adoption: 'Punched in the Gut'
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Amorn Suriyan)

Two years ago, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a law giving religious adoption agencies the OK to refuse to place a child if doing so would buck its "written religious or moral convictions or policies," per the Knoxville News Sentinel. Now, the state is seeing its first lawsuit challenging that measure, via a couple who say they were rebuffed by a Christian-based adoption agency because they're Jewish. Per the complaint filed Wednesday against Tennessee's Department of Children's Services, Gabriel and Elizabeth Rutan-Ram say they decided to go the adoption route after finding out they couldn't have biological children of their own, noting they were excited in early 2021 to find a Florida boy with a disability they hoped to adopt.

However, Tennessee law mandated they first had to complete foster-parent training and receive a home-study certification. The Rutan-Rams began the process of doing so through Holston United Methodist Home for Children, a placement agency that gets money from the state "to provide placement, training, and other services" on behalf of Children's Services, per the suit. And all seemed to be set, until the day the Rutan-Rams were scheduled to start their training. That's when, they say, Holston informed them it couldn't help them with the process, as it "only provide[s] adoption services to prospective adoptive families that share our [Christian] belief system."

The couple lost out on adopting the boy as they were unable to find another local adoption agency that could help them fulfill Tennessee's requirements for out-of-state adoptions. "I felt like I'd been punched in the gut," Elizabeth Rutan-Ram tells Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed the suit on behalf of the couple. "It was the first time I felt discriminated against because I am Jewish. ... 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." Her husband adds: "It's infuriating to learn our tax dollars are funding discrimination against us."

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In an emailed statement to McClatchy News, a Holston spokesperson notes "it is vital that Holston Home, as a religious organization, remains free to continue placing at-risk children in loving, Christian families, according to our deeply held beliefs." Six other Tennessee residents who similarly object to how their taxes are being spent have joined the couple in their religious discrimination suit. Meanwhile, the Rutan-Rams aren't letting Holston dash their plans to start a family: The suit notes says that, through a different agency, they're now fostering a teen girl they plan to adopt, and hope to adopt another child at some point as well. (More adoption stories.)

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