A Nashville woman is suing the federal government for funding a Christian adoption agency that rejected her from fostering a refugee child because she’s a lesbian.
According to a 29-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Wednesday, Kelly Easter was twice denied by Bethany Christian Services, which is among the country’s largest adoption and foster care agencies. Although she claims in court documents that she initially exchanged a series of positive emails with Bethany staff after expressing her interest in fostering a youth refugee, the agency declined to work with her after learning she is a lesbian.
Approximately a year and a half later, Bethany allegedly told Easter she could now foster a child, but only if she worked with a specific office that was far from her home. The organization reaffirmed that she could not work with the East Nashville office due to the fact that it’s a subgrantee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which prohibits grantees from working with LGBTQ+ people.
The USCCB, a membership group representing Catholic hierarchy in the U.S., receives federal funding for the services it provides to refugees, including reception, placement, and resettlement.
Easter has accused the government of violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from favoring any religion, as well as the Fifth Amendment’s right to due process, which guarantees equal protection of the law. The lawsuit is aimed at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Biden administration.
“There is no valid reason for the government, or child-welfare organizations, to prefer heterosexual people over LGBTQ people when considering approving would-be foster parents or making placement decisions,” the suit argues. “The scientific community has reached consensus that children reared by lesbian, gay, or bisexual parents are just as likely to be well-adjusted as children of heterosexual parents.”
The complaint also points to the shortage of available foster families. In Easter’s home state of Tennessee, nearly 8,000 children are in the foster care system but less than 4,000 homes that are willing to take them in, according to the advocacy group Tennessee Alliance for Kids (TAK). An estimated one-fifth of youth who age out of the foster care system will face houselessness, and fewer than 3% will earn a college degree or graduate from a vocational school.
In a statement accompanying the filing, Easter said she is “heartbroken” that she won’t be able to assist a child in need. “I am qualified and can provide a safe and stable home for a child,” she said. “How is it better for them to stay in a group setting instead of a home with someone who can care for and support them adequately?”
Bethany denied allegations it discriminates in its foster care services, telling the Associated Press that it is “committed to welcoming and serving all individuals and families. “[N]o one will be rejected because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” a representative claimed.
This isn’t the first time that Bethany has been accused of refusing to work with LGBTQ+ clients. The group was one of several religious entities implicated in the Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case heard by the Supreme Court last year. In a 9-0 ruling, the court ruled narrowly on the side of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies, claiming that Philadelphia had not applied its LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination ordinance neutrally in requiring placement centers to work with same-sex couples.