Oregon says Christian mom unfit to adopt
Jessica Bates sues the state for rejecting her application because of her beliefs
Jessica Bates felt called by God to adopt children from foster care. But the state of Oregon said her faith disqualified her from being an adoptive parent. Now she is suing the state for violating her religious rights.
Bates already has five children, ages 10 through 17. Her husband, Dave, died in a car collision six years ago, hit head-on by a man trying to escape the police.
“Walking through losing him—it’s one of those kind of landmark things that happens in your life,” Bates told me. “But I found God to be faithful. And He’s still who He always said He was. It’s that relationship and that trust with Him, I think, that gives you the energy and the strength and the desire to keep moving down the path He has for you.” She credited her church community at the nondenominational Vale Christian Church with helping her stay rooted in her Biblical beliefs and make it through her loss.
Two years ago, Bates was listening to a Focus on the Family broadcast on the way to work. She heard a Christian dad relate how he adopted a son out of foster care. Then she said she heard not an audible voice but clear words.
“In my spirit, it was, ‘Those are My children.’ And it was with that tone of [a] dad’s love, kind of that protective love for His kids.”
Bates told her children about her experience listening to the broadcast about foster care. With their support, Bates decided to adopt an often hard-to-place sibling pair, figuring that it would be easier for the children to adjust to a new family if they had each other. She applied to adopt from the state foster care system in March 2022. She turned over financial documents and took 27 hours of live online training over three weeks, three evenings a week.
In Oregon, individuals seeking to adopt must agree 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.” As a Christian, Bates said she was willing to adopt and love any child but could not agree to support a sexual orientation or gender identity not part of God’s design.
Bates emailed the worker certifying her as a foster parent to let her know she had completed the training, adding that she had some concerns over the state’s requirement that she support a child’s gender identity. She recalled how the online instructor had given examples of how a parent should support a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, like allowing a child to dress however they want and taking them to a Pride parade. One handout stated that parents should avoid “forcing youth to attend activities (including religious activities ...) that are ... unsupportive of people with diverse SOGIE,” using a term for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
The certifier called Bates at her home a few weeks later. “And she said, OK, 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?” Bates recounted. “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.”
According to the complaint filed to start the lawsuit, the certifier told Bates during that phone call that she would not be able to adopt. Over the next two months, Bates emailed the certifier or her superior four times, asking for a written explanation for her application’s denial.
Bates finally received a letter from the Oregon Department of Human Services in November 2022. “This is your notice that ODHS is terminating the adoption application process and denying your application,” it said.
In the lawsuit, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Bates contend state officials are penalizing her for her religious views in violation of the First Amendment, forcing her to either abandon her convictions or forgo adoption. They say officials inconsistently enforce the policy, noting that 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.
“Oregon’s policy makes a sweeping claim that all persons who hold certain religious beliefs—beliefs held by millions of Americans from diverse religious faiths—are categorically unfit to care for children,” said ADF attorney Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse. “That’s simply not true. Oregon is putting its political agenda above the needs of countless children who would be happy to grow up in a loving, Christian home like Jessica’s.”
Bates is not the first parent to clash with a state over an adoption policy that excludes applicants with viewpoints that do not conform to the state’s gender policy. In 2020, Washington state officials refused to approve a Seventh-day Adventist couple’s application to adopt their biological great-granddaughter because of their beliefs on sexual orientation and gender identity. U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza, an Obama appointee now serving on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled in favor of the couple, blocking the state from enforcing a gender identity and sexual orientation policy similar to that of Oregon.
Some Christian adoption agencies such as Miracle Hill Ministries in Greenville, S.C., have declined to work with families that do not share their Biblical beliefs. But in those cases, families may choose to adopt through other agencies in the state. Their beliefs do not exclude them from adopting as a matter of law.
ADF attorney Kelly Howard said she expects a court hearing to be set on an April 18 motion to block Oregon officials from enforcing the state’s policy sometime after June 1, when the state’s response to the motion is due.
Bates is hopeful that the court will ultimately rule in her favor, allowing her to add two children to an already bustling family of six. “I know that seems like a lot. But sometimes when you get to a certain point, it’s like, what’s a couple more?”