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Broad support for Oregon mother blocked by state from adopting children

ADF attorneys represent Jessica Bates after Oregon officials discriminated against her for her religious beliefs

Monday, Jan 22, 2024

PORTLAND, Ore. – A broad coalition of foster and adoptive parents, religious liberty groups, free speech and family advocates, 20 states, and detransitioners filed friend-of-the-court briefs last Thursday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in support of an Oregon mother of five who wishes to adopt siblings from foster care. Jessica Bates, who is represented by ADF attorneys, filed her opening brief earlier this month, challenging an Oregon Department of Human Services rule that categorically excludes her from adopting any child—no matter their age or beliefs—because she would not violate her religious beliefs to promote Oregon’s radical gender ideology.

Bates is asking the 9th Circuit to allow her to obtain her certification, free of discrimination, while her lawsuit, Bates v. Pakseresht, continues so that she can eventually provide a loving home to children in need.

“Jessica is a loving mother who wants to open her home to children in need right now, but Oregon officials are excluding her and countless other families because of their religious beliefs about sexual ethics and the human body,” said ADF Legal Counsel Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse. “Because these caregivers cannot promote Oregon’s dangerous gender ideology to young kids, the state considers them to be unfit parents. That’s false and harmful, needlessly depriving these kids of opportunities to find a loving home. We, along with the many groups who filed briefs supporting Jessica, urge the 9th Circuit to remind Oregon that the foster and adoption system is supposed to serve the best interests of children, not the State’s ideological crusade.”

Bates applied to become certified to adopt children from foster care two years ago. Oregon’s DHS, the agency responsible for overseeing the state’s child welfare programs, denied her application because Bates would not agree to say and do things that conflict with her faith, like using false pronouns inconsistent with a child’s sex or helping children access dangerous drugs, like cross-sex hormones, that block their natural biological development.

Although Bates told ODHS officials that she would happily love and accept any child placed with her, officials rejected her application, making her ineligible to adopt any child—even infants or children who share her religious beliefs. The friend-of-the-court briefs join ADF in arguing that ODHS’s policy needlessly penalizes Bates and many other people of faith for their religious views, compels parents to speak words that violate their conscience, and deprives children in need of the opportunity to find loving homes.

“Here, it is not difficult to see the next applications of Oregon’s unconstitutional law. Unchecked, it will spread and effectively ostracize people of faith from society,” argues the multi-state brief led by Idaho. “The First Amendment exists to prevent that very thing. And its protections apply against Oregon’s law, which must be enjoined if the First Amendment is to be given force.”

The Conscience Project, filing a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of adoptive and foster parents, says that religious couples are three times more likely to help children in need. “The assumption that children will be harmed if raised by religious Americans with traditional beliefs on the nature of human sexual identity is a deplorable expression of religious bigotry,” the brief explains. “Such prejudicial stereotyping ignores the charitable ethic that drives many religious foster and adoptive parents.”

A brief submitted by individuals who “detransitioned” from living as the opposite sex recounts how these individuals were rushed by medical personnel into taking cross-sex hormones and undergoing life-altering procedures before they gradually grew comfortable with their biological sex. “[Their] experiences as detransitioners provide a different perspective and demonstrate that ‘affirming’ a child’s asserted gender identity can lead to significant physical and psychological harm,” the brief explains. “As a result, the State’s interest in denying [Bates] the opportunity to adopt from its foster-care system because of her religious beliefs and religiously motivated expression is not a compelling one…These children, who face the same challenges [the detransitioners] faced, deserve to grow up in a truly supportive environment where they are loved for who they are, and no one tries to change them into someone else through harmful medical procedures.”

Rebekah Schultheiss, one of more than 4,500 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, is serving as local counsel on behalf of Bates.

  • 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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Friend-of-the-court briefs filed with U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit