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OR mom urges 9th Circuit to put children's welfare ahead of ideological agenda

ADF attorneys represent Jessica Bates, challenging state officials for discriminating against her religious beliefs

Friday, Jan 12, 2024

PORTLAND, Ore. – An Oregon mother of five represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, who wishes to adopt siblings from foster care, filed her opening brief Thursday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit after a lower court ruled against her. Oregon’s Department of Human Services categorically excluded Jessica Bates from adopting any child—no matter their age or beliefs—because she would not violate her religious beliefs and promote Oregon’s radical gender ideology.

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

“Jessica wants to open her home to children in need right now, but Oregon officials are placing a dangerous ideological agenda above kids’ best interests,” said ADF Legal Counsel Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse. “Jessica is a loving mother who feels called to adopt siblings from foster care. Oregon is categorically excluding her merely because she shares a view held by millions of Americans: that boys and girls are biologically different. Jessica believes children should cherish that difference, not reject it.”

“Because Jessica will not promote Oregon’s radical gender ideology to young kids, the state considers her and many others to be ‘unfit’ parents, depriving countless children in Oregon’s system of opportunities to be raised in a loving home,” Widmalm-Delphonse added. “We are urging the 9th Circuit to allow Jessica to continue her adoption journey and provide a loving home to children in need.”

Bates began the process of applying to become certified to adopt children from foster care two years ago. Oregon 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 use body-altering drugs, like cross-sex hormones, to block their natural development.

Although Bates told ODHS officials that she would happily love and accept any child placed with her, officials still rejected her application, making her ineligible to adopt any child—even infants or children who share her religious beliefs. ADF attorneys contend 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.

As the opening brief in Bates v. Pakseresht explains, “Oregon [cannot] justify excluding as prospective parents the hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who share Bates’ religious views about human sexuality...Including people like Bates maximizes the number of families available to adopt children in need and increases the odds every child eventually finds a loving home.” Bates argues that “Oregon’s categorical exclusion uses a sledgehammer when the First Amendment demands a scalpel,” pointing out that “the federal government and most other states avoid categorical exclusions and match specific children with compatible families...This policy achieves nothing but serves only to violate the First Amendment and harm kids in need of homes.”

Bates, who lost her husband in a car collision seven years ago, is a mother of five children, ages 10 to 18. Inspired by the story of a man who adopted a child from foster care, Bates felt called to follow the biblical teaching to care for orphans. State officials, however, rejected her application because she could not abandon her religious beliefs.

Rebekah Schultheiss, one of nearly 5,000 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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