Bates v. Pakseresht
Description: Oregon Department of Human Services denied single mother Jessica Bates’ application to adopt siblings from foster care because of her religious beliefs.
Oregon officials put politics above children's welfare
PENDLETON, Ore. – On behalf of a single mother of five wishing to adopt siblings from foster care, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Monday against Oregon state officials for denying her application because of her religious beliefs.
Jessica Bates began the process of applying to become certified to adopt a child from Oregon’s foster care system one year ago. The Oregon Department of Human Services, the agency responsible for the delivery and administration of the state’s child welfare programs, denied her application because individuals seeking to adopt must agree to “respect, accept, and support … the sexual orientation, gender identity, [and] gender expression” of any child the department could place in an applicant’s home, and Bates could not agree to this because of her faith.
“Oregon’s policy amounts to an ideological litmus test: people who hold secular or ‘progressive’ views on sexual orientation and gender identity are eligible to participate in child welfare programs, while people of faith with religiously informed views are disqualified because they don’t agree with the state’s orthodoxy,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, director of the ADF Center for Conscience Initiatives. “The government can’t exclude certain communities of faith from foster care and adoption services because the state doesn’t like their particular religious beliefs.”
During her application process, Bates alerted ODHS that she will happily love and accept any child, but she cannot say or do something that goes against her Christian faith. ODHS’s policy, however, excludes her and others who hold traditional religious beliefs about human nature and sexuality by requiring parents to use a child’s preferred pronouns, take a child to affirming events like Pride parades, or facilitate a child’s access to dangerous pharmaceutical interventions like puberty blockers and hormone shots if the child so requests. As such, ODHS’s policy penalizes Bates for her religious views, compels her to speak words that violate her beliefs, and deprives her of equal protection of the law because of her faith.
“Oregon’s policy makes a sweeping claim that all persons who hold certain religious beliefs—beliefs held by millions of Americans from diverse religious faiths—are categorically unfit to care for children,” said ADF Legal Counsel Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse. “That’s simply not true. Oregon is putting its political agenda above the needs of countless children who would be happy to grow up in a loving, Christian home like Jessica’s. We urge the court to remind the state of its constitutional and moral obligations and reaffirm Jessica’s First Amendment right to live out her faith without being penalized by the government.”
Bates, who lost her husband in a car collision six years ago, is a mother of five children, ages 10 to 17. Inspired by the story of a man who adopted a child from foster care, Bates felt a calling to follow the biblical teaching to care for orphans. She seeks to adopt a sibling pair, who are generally harder to place. State officials, however, rejected her application for failing to “meet the adoption home standards” and excluded her from accessing any child welfare service because she refused to abandon her religious beliefs.
ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Bates v. Pakseresht, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Pendleton Division.
- Pronunciation guide: Widmalm-Delphonse (VEED'-malm Del-FONS')
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.
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Jonathan Scruggs serves as senior counsel and vice president of litigation strategy and the Center for Conscience Initiatives with Alliance Defending Freedom. In this role, he identifies new litigation opportunities and develops new strategies for protecting free speech and religious liberty in collaboration with the chief legal counsel and litigation team directors. As the leader for the Center for Conscience Initiatives, Scruggs oversees the litigation team defending the rights of professionals and business owners to live out their faith as well as the litigation efforts to protect equal opportunities for women in athletics. Since joining ADF in 2006, Scruggs has worked on and prevailed in a variety of cases that protect the right of people to freely express their faith in their business, at school, and in the public square. He earned his J.D. at Harvard Law School and is admitted to practice in the states of Arizona and Tennessee. Scruggs is also admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court and multiple federal district and appellate courts.
Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse serves as legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a member of the Center for Conscience Initiatives. Just prior to joining ADF, Widmalm-Delphonse clerked for the Honorable Sara Ellis of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Before that, Widmalm-Delphonse served as staff attorney with the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he represented clients charged with serious felonies. Widmalm-Delphonse earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2014. He obtained his B.A., with distinction, in political science, from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Widmalm-Delphonse is a member of state bars of Minnesota, Illinois, and Virginia.