Jewish couple sue Tennessee state-sponsored Christian adoption agency for refusing to let them have a child because of their religion: Governor signed law two years ago allowing religion-based adoption agencies to reject families with different beliefs

  • Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram say they were denied state-mandated training and a home-study certification by Holston United Methodist Home for Children 
  • They’re challenging a law signed by Governor Bill Lee that allows religion-based agencies to reject families based on differing religious and moral beliefs
  • The law allows adoption agencies to reject services if doing so would ‘violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies’ 
  • In that lawsuit against the Biden administration in December, Holston admitted to receiving public money for foster care placement and training 
  • The couple says initially Holston had told them they would help them with a child in Florida who they were excited to foster with plans to adopt
  • Holston President and CEO Bradley Williams has not responded to requests for comment 

A Tennessee couple is suing a Christian-based adoption agency saying that the state sponsors refused to assist them because they are Jewish. 

Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram said they were denied state-mandated foster parent training and a home-study certification by Holston United Methodist Home for Children in Greeneville, Tennessee, when they attempted to adopt last year. 

They’ve filed the first lawsuit against the state challenging a law signed by Governor Bill Lee two years ago that allows religion-based adoption agencies to reject families whose religious or moral beliefs don’t align with theirs. 

The law allows adoption agencies to reject services if doing so would ‘violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.’  

The agency sued the Biden administration last December for new regulations that prohibit government funded health and human services programs from discriminating based on religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or same sex marriage status.  

Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram, a Tennessee couple, allege in a lawsuit that a Christian adoption agency rejected their request for services to help them become foster parents because they are Jewish

Holston United Methodist Home for Children admitted in a lawsuit against the Biden administration that it receives government money to help provide services to aspiring foster parents

The lawsuit is the first to challenge legislation that Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (pictured) signed into law two years ago that allowed adoption agencies to reject services to those who don’t align with their religious or moral beliefs

In that lawsuit, they admitted to receiving public money for foster care placement and training.   

The Rutan-Rams – who discovered they could not have biological children of their own – called the rejection on the basis of their religion a punch in the gut. 

‘It was the first time I felt discriminated against because I am Jewish. It was very shocking,’ Elizabeth Rutan-Ram said. ‘And it was very hurtful that the agency seemed to think that a child would be better off in state custody than with a loving family like us.’ 

The couple said initially Holston told them they would help with a child in Florida who they were excited to foster with plans to adopt 

On the day they were set to begin training, according to the lawsuit, they were told Holston only served families who share their belief system. 

Bradley Williams is the President and CEO of Holston United Methodist Home for Children, which says it is ‘guided by principles that have been passed down throughout the history of this ministry’

The Rutan-Rams have since become foster parents but have plans to adopt in the future. Elizabeth Rutan-Ram said this was the first time she’d ever felt discriminated against for being Jewish

Eventually, the Rutan-Rams fostered a teenage girl with plans to adopt in the future. 

Holston President and CEO Bradley Williams has not responded to requests for comment.   

Alex J. Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal director at Americans United, put out a statement on behalf of the Rutan-Ram family.   

‘The Tennessee Constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, promises religious freedom and equality for everyone,’ he said. ‘Tennessee is reneging on that promise by allowing a taxpayer-funded agency to discriminate against Liz and Gabe Rutan-Ram because they are Jews.’ 

Luchenitser adds that the Rutan-Ram family plans to adopt beyond their current foster child in the future. 

Rev. Elaine Blanchard (pictured), a minister with the Disciples of Christ Church, has joined the Rutan-Rams in their lawsuit

Dr. Larry Blanz (pictured), a psychologist who claims 40 years of experience with foster parents and children, is also a part of the suit

Four local religious officials – interfaith pastor Rev. Jeannie Alexander, Disciples of Christ minister Rev. Elaine Blanchard, Chirstian minister Rev. Alaina Cobb, Unitarian Rev. Denise Gyauch – have joined the Rutan-Rams in the suit.

Also signed on is Dr. Larry Blanz, a retired psychologist with experience working with foster parents and children and Mirabelle Steodter, treaurer for the Tennessee   chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.    

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Child Services and the Tennessee Attorney General’s offices have declined to comment on pending litigation.  

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