UMC children's home sues HHS for forcing placement of kids with same-sex, unmarried couples

Holston United Methodist Home for Children
Holston United Methodist Home for Children, a Christian charity based in Tennessee. |

A Tennessee-based children’s home affiliated with the United Methodist Church has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over a rule requiring the organization to place kids in the homes of same-sex married couples or cohabitating couples.

Holston United Methodist Home for Children, which first opened in 1895 and has helped over 8,000 children, filed the litigation Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Greeneville.

Holston, which receives some reimbursement for its services via the HHS’ Title IV-E, is religiously opposed to placing children in homes headed by cohabitating partners or those in same-sex marriages.

The children’s home, which sits on 155 acres of hillside in Greeneville, takes issue with HHS regulation that bars discrimination in HHS-funded foster programs based on religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status.

The regulation was enacted in 2016 during the end of the Obama administration. The Trump administration issued exemptions to the rule for faith-based organizations, which were recently rescinded by the Biden administration. 

“It would substantially burden Holston Home’s exercise of its religious beliefs to knowingly engage in child placing activities in connection with couples who may be romantically cohabitating but not married, or who are couples of the same biological sex,” the lawsuit reads.

“If Holston Home were to knowingly engage in child placing activities concerning placements of children in connection with couples who may be romantically cohabitating but are not married, or who are couples of the same biological sex, it would need to engage in speech with which Holston Home disagrees and which violate Holston Home’s religious beliefs.”

The lawsuit names the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, Jooyeun Chang of HHS’ Administration for Children and Families and the Administration for Children and Families as defendants.

Holston is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal nonprofit that has successfully argued several religious liberty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The lawsuit cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling that found that Philadelphia officials were wrong to exclude a Catholic charity from the city’s foster program because the organization doesn’t place children in the homes of same-sex couples in accordance with Catholic teaching on marriage.

“The Supreme Court has recently recognized the harms that may come to children from expelling faith-based agencies from foster care and adoption programs,” the lawsuit states, citing the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.

“Many other agencies in the State of Tennessee are willing to engage in child placing activities with couples with whom Holston Home does not work. Elimination of the 2016 Grants Rule as unlawful, or recognizing religious exemptions to it, will not prevent any child from being placed in his or her forever home, nor will it prevent any couple qualified by a state to foster or adopt from being able to work with an agency receiving Title IV-E funds.”

ADF Senior Counsel Matt Bowman said in a statement that he believes the Biden administration is “wrong to remove religious exemptions to its unlawful grants rule.”

“This leaves Holston Home and other faith-based nonprofits with an untenable choice to violate their religious beliefs or lose critical grants necessary to their operations, which benefit everyone, including the government,” stated Bowman.

“The Supreme Court has recognized the harms to children and society of expelling faith-based agencies from foster care and adoption programs, and now it’s time this administration follows suit by respecting Holston Home’s constitutionally protected religious freedoms and repealing this illegal rule.”

Last month, HHS rescinded waivers granted to faith-based child welfare agencies who contract with the federal government. Instituted during the Trump administration, the waivers exempted organizations that receive them from policies mandating that “no person otherwise eligible will be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination in the administration of HHS programs and services.”

“Today’s action supports the bedrock American principle and a core mission of our Department — to ensure Americans have access to quality health and human services,” Becerra stated on Nov. 18. 

“Our action ensures we are best prepared to protect every American’s right to be free of discrimination. With the large number of discrimination claims before us, we owe it to all who come forward to act, whether to review, investigate or take appropriate measures to protect their rights.”

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