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Gender identity raises a new barrier to adoption in Oregon


WORLD Radio - Gender identity raises a new barrier to adoption in Oregon

A mother of five sues Oregon for denying her application to adopt after she refused to sign a form affirming gender identity and gender transitions for children

Jessica Bates, at home in Malheur County, Oregon. Alliance Defending Freedom

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 16th of May, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

First up adoption, law, and gender ideology. The Supreme Court two years ago permitted a religious organization to keep placing children under Philadelphia’s foster care system, as it had for years. The city attacked Catholic Social Services for its commitment to God’s design for marriage as one man and one woman. But the high court struck down the city’s policy on narrow grounds.

EICHER: The high court’s decision hasn’t stopped other states from discriminating against religious groups and even Christian families who seek to adopt.

Back in March, the state of Oregon denied Jessica Bates her application to adopt. The reason was because Bates would not sign a form affirming gender identity and gender transitions for children. The young mother of five contacted Alliance Defending Freedom to file a lawsuit against the state in federal court.

REICHARD: Here to fill us in is World legal reporter, Steve West. Good morning, Steve.


REICHARD: Can you tell us a little about Jessica Bates and what led her to want to adopt?

WEST: Well, Jessica is a single widowed mom. She lives in Oregon. Her husband was tragically killed in an automobile accident six years ago. She already has five kids, ages 10 to 17. So she really wasn't necessarily looking to add more kids to the family. And then one day on the way to work, she really felt the Lord Lord’s leading in regard to adopting children.

JESSICA BATES: And I'm listening to Focus on the Family, and I think the name of the broadcast was like Boone and Me. But it was a single dad who had adopted a son out of foster care. And I remember saying, Oh, that's really cool, you know, and I'm almost to work. And then it's not an audible voice, but really clear four words in my spirit, it was ‘those are my children.’ And so kind of felt called to look into adopting. And got into work and parked and just you know, your mind is thinking about that and praying about it. Like, what do you what do you want me to do?

EICHER: So Jessica decides to adopt. She starts the process and then encounters a roadblock. What happened?

WEST: Yeah, this is not a simple process, she filled out an application, she took 27 hours of live online training that's three nights a week for three weeks in a row. And she turned over all her financial documents. So she, you know, everything that she had, and during the training, she heard that she had to basically support a child's gender identity. And that concerned her so she raised those concerns with a certifier with the state agency. And there was some back and forth. But ultimately, she got a phone call that really was the end of the road for her in terms of adoption.

BATES: And we just had a conversation on the phone and kind of walked through the hypothetical situations. And she said, Okay, well, so what if you have a child in your home that is wanting to transition genders, and needs to be taken to hormone injection appointments, will you drive them to their appointments? And I told her, No, you know, I'm gonna treat them just like my other children. Not going to be able to do that.

So basically, what the state was telling Jessica was that she actually had to agree to completely and totally support a child's gender identity. That means she would have to take the child to a Pride Parade, if they wanted to go to a Pride Parade, have to use the pronouns that the child wanted to use. And, like Jessica mentioned, she would also have to the she would also have to take them for homework, hormone treatments, or perhaps support some type of sex reassignment surgery. So that's pretty drastic, and she couldn't do that as a believer.

REICHARD: Is there any precedent to deny an application on the grounds that some sincerely held religious belief is unacceptable? What makes this Oregon rule unique?

WEST: Well, it's not exactly unique, but it is unusual. We often hear of, you know, Christian adoption agencies who there's litigation over the fact that they, they don't want to allow a same sex couple, or perhaps sometimes an unmarried couple or non Christian couples to adopt. In other words, folks that can't subscribe to their bases of belief. But those couples or singles can go to another adoption agency that doesn't have those same, same guidelines. But here, if you want to adopt a foster child in Oregon, this is the only place to go, to the state. And so religious people who have these beliefs and biblical beliefs about marriage and sexuality cannot adopt foster children and Oregon, and that's religious discrimination that's not unique to Oregon. There was also a rule in Washington state to the same effect, but in 2020, a judge struck down that rule as applied to a Seventh Day Adventist couple who wanted to adopt their great granddaughter, and the court struck that down, so there was success there. Hopefully there'll be success here.

REICHARD: What argument does ADF bring in its lawsuit against the state?

WEST: So ADF basically says that, that the state of Oregon is penalizing Jessica Bates for her religious views in violation of the First Amendment, forcing her to either abandon her religious convictions, which she's not going to do, or forego adoption. So if you have those same religious beliefs as Jessica has, you may not adopt in Oregon. That's religious discrimination, they say. And they also say that the state does not apply this policy consistently. So for example, a family that hunts does not need to give up hunting because an adopted child is a vegan, nor does a Jewish family need to allow a child to have a Hindu shrine. So they don't apply consistently. But they do apply it to people like Jessica Bates who have biblical beliefs about marriage and sexuality. That's religious discrimination.

EICHER: Well, Steve, it’s interesting. This week, World’s Effective Compassion podcast emphasizes the legal side of foster care, and in just a few minutes we’ll have a story that grew out of that reporting.

So I wonder, what else about this story do you think families considering adoption ought to consider?

WEST: Well, I thought of several things. One is not legal in nature. But just simply the fact that we can look to Bates example here she has five children, she's able to take on two more children, she actually wanted to adopt a sibling pair here. So she's really taking seriously the scriptural admonition to to take care of the orphans. And so that's what she's doing. She felt the Lord leading in that regard. And so other Christians can do that, too. And so I think the second thing is that families that decide to go down this route also need to be aware that there are challenges or challenges obviously, and, and raising these children. There's challenges in raising all children. But there's also legal challenges here that could be made, could be faced and they need to get advice, like Bates did from Alliance Defending Freedom. And the third thing is to if you go down this route, ask your church to come around and support you. That's part of caring for orphans. Some people can't adopt, more people likely than not can't adopt foster kids. They're not in a position to do that. But they can come around and support those who do adopt foster kids. And that's what happened in Jessica's case.

REICHARD: Before we let you go, some good news to report following a story from a few months ago. In Arizona, a public school district decided to cut ties with Arizona Christian University’s student teacher program, citing the university’s Christian identity! How did that case resolve?

WEST: Right, well there's this complete turnaround on their part. You know, they were faced with a lawsuit in regard to this ending of the relationship with ACU over their religious viewpoint, now, of course, they can decide to contract with AC with an Arizona Christian university or not, that's up to them. But what they can't do is decide not to contract with them simply because of their religious views. And that's what happened here. There was actually quite a bit of hostility toward their views on marriage and sexuality in this case, but I think, you know, I suspect here it's not clear why they changed their mind, but they did face a lot of public opposition. They probably also got some legal advice that changed their mind about opposing this. So they, the good news is that they have the school board there has entered into a another five year contract with Arizona Christian University, agreeing to allow their student teachers to complete their student teaching at their middle schools and elementary schools in the school district, as they have before. And so the school was able to maintain its biblical stance, and the teachers were able to be, you know, finish their education by doing their student teaching in the school system, so it's a win-win.

EICHER: Steve West is a legal reporter for WORLD. If you’d like to read more about Jessica Bates’s case, we’ve included a link in today’s transcript. Steve, thanks for your work!

WEST: You're welcome.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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