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Jewish couple sue Tenn. over alleged rejection as foster trainees at Christian home due to religion

Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram
Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram sued the Tennessee Department of Children's Services in January 2022 over allegedly being denied services by the state-supported Holston United Methodist Home for Children due to their Jewish faith. |

A married Jewish couple are suing Tennessee in response to reportedly being rejected by a  government-supported Christian children’s home when they tried to foster a child.

Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram filed a complaint against the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and DCS Commissioner Jenifer Nichols on Wednesday in the Chancery Court for the state of Tennessee, 20th Judicial District, Davidson County.

According to the lawsuit, Rutan-Ram planned to foster a boy living in Florida, but in order to do so had to fulfill a state requirement to complete a program in foster-parent-training and earn a certification in home-study.

When the Rutan-Rams sought to complete these programs through the state-supported Holston United Methodist Home for Children, according to the complaint, the home said they could only provide such services to families that shared their Christian beliefs.

“In January 2020, the Tennessee General Assembly expressly approved religious discrimination like Holston’s, by enacting House Bill 836,” claimed the lawsuit.

“This statute authorizes child-placing agencies to deny child-placement services, based on the agencies’ religious policies, even if state tax dollars fund the services.”

The Rutan-Rams are being represented by The Kramer Law Center and attorneys with the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Alex J. Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal director at Americans United who is involved in the litigation, told The Christian Post in an emailed statement on Thursday that “we believe that people should never be denied publicly-funded services because of their religious beliefs.”

“Taxpayer funds should benefit everyone equally regardless of what their faith or belief system is. Religious discrimination should never be a reason to keep apart children who need a loving home and parents who want to provide one,” Luchenitser added.

CP reached out to the Tennessee DCS for this story, with spokesperson Rob Johnson responding on Thursday that the department “cannot comment on pending litigation.”

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

Bradley Williams, president and CEO of Holston, emailed CP a statement on Thursday saying that they "view the caregivers we partner with as extensions of our ministry team serving children."

"So from the very beginning, we seek to find alignment with them, and if we cannot do so, we try to help them find an agency that may be a better fit," stated Williams. "Finding other agencies is not hard to do. In Tennessee, for example, there are six other agencies for each one faith-based provider."

Williams added that he believes "forcing Holston Home to violate our beliefs and place children in homes that do not share our faith is wrong and contrary to a free society."

Founded in 1895 and having reportedly helped more than 8,000 children, Holston receives reimbursement for its services through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Title IV-E.

Last month, Holston filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration over a rule requiring the organization to place kids in the homes of same-sex married couples or cohabitating couples.

The regulation was enacted in 2016 during by the Obama administration. Although the Trump administration issued exemptions to the rule for faith-based organizations, they 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,” read the Holston lawsuit.

“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.”  

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