‘Outrageous discrimination’: US couple rejected as foster parents because they’re Jewish

The law used against the Rutan-Rams allows state-funded faith-based agencies to practice religious freedom by denying adoption access to same-sex or non-Christian couples.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A Tennessee court has ruled that a Jewish couple has the right to sue the state for using a law originally designed for other purposes in order to reject them as foster parent candidates due to their religion, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported Sunday.

According to Tennessee law, faith-based adoption agencies can refuse to place children in homes that “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” When passed in 2020, critics charged that the legislation was passed in order to exclude LGBTQ+ applicants, but the wording of the law could clearly be used to reject those practising a religion other than that espoused by the agency.

“Liz and Gabe Rutan-Ram suffered outrageous discrimination because they are Jewish,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State told JTA in a statement. “This loving couple wanted to help a child in need, only to be told that they couldn’t get services from a taxpayer-funded agency because they’re the wrong religion.”

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Laser’s group, as well as others who oppose religious discrimination, are backing this first challenge to the law, with the respondents being Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services. The case was initially rejected on a technical basis, but that decision was reversed Thursday by an appeals court, with a trial date to be set soon.

The Rutan-Rams were open about their Jewishness with the Holston United Methodist Home for Children in Greenville, which initially accepted them for foster parent training in 2021, JTA reported. Their goal was to eventually adopt a certain three-year-old boy and raise him as a cultural Jew like them, and they didn’t hide this from the agency.

The day before training was to begin, the Home informed them that it went against the agency’s “values” to place a child in a non-Christian home.

“We’ve faced antisemitism our entire lives. [Elizabeth’s] nickname in school was ‘Jew girl’ because she has very characteristic features. When I was in second grade, I had some kids on the bus give me a swastika on a sheet of paper. Some people within my social circle, like friends of friends, told me that Hitler didn’t do a good enough job,” Gabriel told JTA in an interview

The fact that a publicly funded entity could be openly discriminatory was what shocked them, they said. But the support from friends, especially evangelical Christians, has “been wonderful.”

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The Rutan-Rams discovered that they were not the only Jews to have been rejected by Christian adoption agencies, as some couples reached out to them on Facebook to share their own stories, they told JTA.

The couple has had a 14-year-old girl living with them since the first day they were eligible to become foster parents; a different agency had asked if they could take her in. While introducing her to Jewish customs and foods, they completely respect her right to practise her own religion.