Oregon judge denies Christian mother’s right to adopt
A judge ruled in favor of state policies that prioritize LGBTQ ideology
An Oregon judge ruled last Tuesday that a single mother of five can’t adopt because her religious beliefs conflict with state adoption policies.
Jessica Bates, whose husband died in a car collision six years ago, felt called by God to adopt and care for orphans. Last year, she began the process of adopting a pair of siblings from foster care.
To adopt in Oregon, Bates needed to get certified by the Oregon Department of Human Services. But officials denied her application after she said she wouldn’t comply with state adoption policies that violated her religious beliefs about sexuality.
Bates, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a lawsuit against the department in April, citing violations of her religious and free speech rights. The suit also argues that Oregon’s policy amounted to an “ideological litmus test” that enables only those with certain religious views to adopt.
Oregon rules require individuals to “respect, accept, and support … the sexual orientation, gender identity, [and] gender expression” of any child the department could place in an applicant’s home, according to the lawsuit. As a Christian, Bates previously told WORLD that she was willing to adopt and love any child but could not agree to support a sexual orientation or gender identity that is not part of God’s design.
Now, U.S. District Judge Adrienne Nelson has denied the lawsuit and ruled that Bates’ free speech and religious rights were not violated, according to her opinion and order.
“At no point has [Bates] contended that the government instructed her to never speak of her faith,” the judge wrote. “Rather, the government required that she not disaffirm or disavow a child’s LGBTQ+ identities.”
Nelson added while Oregon’s policy compels some speech, it does so to provide a “supportive environment” for LGBTQ children. The judge said the policy merely prevents Bates’ right to free speech from infringing on the child’s rights.
Additionally, the judge attempted to address ADF’s concerns about the policy targeting religious beliefs, stating people can disagree with LGTBQ identities for many reasons outside of religion.
While the judge recognized Bates’ “willingness to love a child placed in her home,” Nelson said Bates has a “lack of understanding about the unique support and care that LGBTQ children require.” Even if Bates provided a place for the child to discuss sexuality openly, the judge said Bates would still invalidate the child’s LGBTQ identity.
ADF attorney Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse “respectfully disagrees” with the court’s reasoning and said that Bates’ rights are violated if she has to comply with Oregon’s policy. He said he’s concerned Nelson’s ruling gives the state government free range to discriminate against foster and adoptive parents.
While the judge argued the policy may compel speech to protect children, Widmalm-Delphonse said the Supreme Court has held that First Amendment free speech and religious rights take priority over these protections, he said.
Oregon had more than 5,600 children in foster care in 2021, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services. The judge’s ruling means there are fewer families available to take care of these children, Widmalm-Delphonse said.
“But when you are excluding entire faith communities [from adoption] you are only taking away opportunities—you are not creating more of them for the children,” he said. “We need more foster families to take in children … not fewer. Ultimately that’s why Ms. Bates is fighting this policy, because it’s hurting children, not helping them.”
A Washington couple faced a similar issue when they wanted to adopt their great-granddaughter in Idaho. The couple, who are Seventh-day Adventists, were denied the right to adopt because of a similar religious conflict with Washington’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families policies. Ultimately, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington found the policy burdened “potential caregivers with sincere religious beliefs yet almost no others.”
Nelson, though, said Washington’s 2020 court ruling “is not binding on this court” in Oregon.
In Massachusetts, a Roman Catholic couple, Mike and Kitty Burke, sued the state in August after their application to foster was denied due to their beliefs about gender and sexuality. They are currently waiting for a response from the state.
While Bates and ADF consider whether they will appeal her case, Widmalm-Delphonse said there is a sense of urgency to resolve the matter. Bates’ oldest son is graduating high school this year and the mother had hoped to adopt children while all of her biological children still lived at home.
“If she has a bedroom waiting for a child, it also feels like, why wait, right?” Widmalm-Delphonse said. “That’s one more day in the state’s care that this child—these children—could be with a loving family.”