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A major blow to parental rights

Indiana courts keep child in foster home because of parents’ religious objections to transgender ideology


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A major blow to parental rights
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The right of parents to raise their children according to their religious beliefs is one of the most sacred, pre-political principles recognized by our political order (Ephesians 6:4). And that right is increasingly on a collision course with the claims of the sexual revolution and, most specifically, the transgender movement. Due to cultural and legal trends over the last few years, the following development may not be a surprise to readers. But it should serve as a warning of the real-life consequences of transgender ideology.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana recently affirmed a trial court decision removing a 16-year-old child from the custody of his parents because they could not, in good conscience, affirm his transgender ideology. Here is the headline message of the case: if a child claims that he or she is transgender and Christian parents decline to affirm that child’s transgender ideology, that child can be removed from their custody and placed in a foster home that teaches principles contrary to their beliefs. This is, of course, a startling and chilling legal development. 

The parents in this matter are devout Christians that believe (1) God creates each of us as immutably male or female as an expression of the image and nature of God and (2) that embracing who God has created us to be will lead to our flourishing (Genesis 5:2; Matthew 19:4). 

In June of 2021, the couple’s son claimed he was transgender and that he was not safe in their home because the parents would not affirm his transgender ideology. The trial court removed the child from the parents over their objections and placed the child in a foster home that affirmed the child’s transgender ideology. The trial court also limited visitation with their child to a few hours one day a week and barred them from speaking about the issue of transgenderism with their child except in a supervised setting. 

The Department of Child Services (DCS) later entered an agreement with the parents to dismiss the allegations of abuse and neglect against them and to focus the case on the child’s eating disorder. Because all allegations against them were dismissed, the parents had every reason to believe their child would be quickly returned to their home. Instead, DCS and the trial court surprised the parents at the next hearing by stating that the disagreement over their religious beliefs remained an obstacle in returning the child to their home. This directly contradicted the agreement to dismiss the allegations against the parents, and the parents appealed.

Despite the parents’ full participation in the case plan provided by the state and compliance with every order of the trial court, the child remains in a transgender-affirming foster home.

To make matters worse, the Court of Appeals recently held that the removal of the child from the parents’ home over the issue of transgenderism did not impose a substantial burden on the parents’ free exercise of religion. And, in justifying the gag order on the parents’ religious speech, the Court of Appeals compared the parents’ speech and beliefs about transgenderism to two parents yelling at or insulting one another in front of their child.

DCS, the trial court, and the Indiana Court of Appeals have predictably characterized this case as about something other than transgenderism. However, the plain facts of the matter speak for themselves. Despite the parents’ full participation in the case plan provided by the state and compliance with every order of the trial court, the child remains in a transgender-affirming foster home that allowed the child to socially transition without the consent of the parents. Further, the parents remain barred by a court order from speaking to their child about their religious beliefs concerning transgenderism except in a supervised setting, the child remains out of their home more than 17 months after removal, and the parents are limited to a few hours of visitation one day per week.

The implications of this case are broad and chilling. If a child claims that he or she is transgender and Christian parents decline to affirm that child’s transgender ideology, the state can now use this case as a precedent to remove that child from the parents’ custody, bar the parents from speaking to their child about their religious beliefs, and place the child in a home that contradicts the parents’ deeply held religious beliefs.

Will Americans put up with this? Christians had better take note, and churches must watch closely.


Josh Hershberger

Josh Hershberger is an attorney, minister and speaker. He serves as the general counsel of Indiana Family Institute and leads The Good Citizen Project, a national ministry that equips Christians to engage in public life. He is the author of several books, including the The Good Citizen: a 4-Step Guide to Gospel-Centered Citizenship, and he hosts The Good Citizen Podcast.


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