Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram of Knoxville, Tennessee, are suing the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, saying a state-sponsored Christian adoption agency declined to work with them because they’re Jewish.
The lawsuit will be a challenge for Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s new law that allows religious adoption agencies to refuse to work with couples whose religious beliefs don’t line up with their own. The law received a lot of attention for permitting such adoption agencies to refuse services to same-sex couples, but the couple’s attorney says the law’s broad language is allowing for religious discrimination as well.
The Rutan-Rams say they were excited to work with Greeneville, Tennessee’s Holston United Methodist Home for Children to get a state-mandated foster-parent training and a home-study certification ahead of their adoption of a Florida girl. Holton had previously sued the Biden administration for withholding federal funds from agencies that discriminate “on the basis of religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and same-sex marriage status.”
The lawsuit comes two years (to the day!) after Lee signed a law allowing adoption agencies to refuse service to same-sex couples or any couple, if doing so would “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” The Rutan-Rams say Holton’s staff had initially told them they could help with out-of-state placement. But on the day the couple was to begin training, they were told the agency only works with Christian couples, according to the lawsuit.
“I felt like I’d been punched in the gut,” Elizabeth Rutan-Ram said in a news release. “It was the first time I felt discriminated against because I am Jewish. It was very shocking. 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.”