A Tennessee court has rejected a lawsuit by a Jewish couple suing the state government after being told that they couldn't undergo foster parent training through a publicly-supported Christian charity due to religious differences.
In a decision released June 27, a three-judge panel of the Chancery Court in Davidson County ruled 2-1 to grant a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram against the Tennessee Department of Children's Services and DCS Commissioner Jenifer Nichols.
The court rejected claims of discrimination.
The Rutan-Rams argued in a January lawsuit that they were denied access to foster training programs through the state-supported Holston United Methodist Home for Children because they were not Christian. The organization only offers foster training programs to couples who uphold Christian beliefs.
The majority concluded that the couple's legal claims were moot, as they were able to complete the programs and receive certification through DCS months after being rejected by Holston.
"Because the Couple has received the very services they claim they were previously denied, the Panel Majority adopts the Defendants' analysis and concludes that any issue related to denial of services is not capable of the prospective relief the Plaintiffs seek and is now moot," read the panel majority opinion.
The majority ruled that the couple's complaint about the Holston Home for Children was inapplicable because they originally planned to foster a child in Florida, while Holston only handles in-state arrangements.
"The contract the Department has with Holston … provides funds only for services for children' in the custody of the State of Tennessee.' Thus the services the Couple sought from Holston are not funded by the Department and therefore lack a causal connection to the alleged injury," continued the majority.
The panel majority also ruled that "the Plaintiffs have not shown that the Defendants would not contract with a Jewish agency similarly situated to Holston; therefore the Act does not single out people of the Jewish faith as a disfavored, innately inferior group."
Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle offered a partial dissent to the panel opinion's claim that the couple lacked "constitutional standing."
"The foregoing law makes clear that the allegations in the Amended Complaint, such as the barriers the Couple faces now as foster parents and continue to face in obtaining the efficiencies and other benefits and advantages of working with private agencies, are sufficient to establish standing," reads the dissent.
The secular legal group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents the couple, intends to appeal the panel decision.
Holston, founded in 1895 and has reportedly helped over 8,000 children, receives reimbursement via the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Title IV-E.
Holston CEO Bradley Williams sent The Christian Post a statement in January saying that "the caregivers we partner with [are] 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," he stated.
"Finding other agencies is not hard to do. In Tennessee, for example, there are six other agencies for each one faith-based provider."
Williams told CP 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."