Jessica Bates, the widowed Vale mother of five, moved last year to adopt two more children.
She filed the necessary state paperwork.
She prepared for the required home inspection.
And she completed the state-mandated training.
But what she heard in that training is now emerging into a test of religious freedom in the face of state laws and rules, a fresh battleground over gender identity.
Bates, in an email to a state official last August, wrote about learning that an adoptive parent “must respect, accept, and support children whose preferred pronouns & identity don’t match their biological sex. I don’t know how many children there are out there under the age of 9 who fall into this category.”
She continued that because of her religious beliefs, “I need to let you know I cannot support this behavior in a child.”
“She lives in a state where officials look down on those with traditional religious beliefs about human sexuality.”–Federal lawsuit complaint
The state subsequently told Bates that her posture conflicted with a state rule and disapproved the adoption.
Now, Bates is challenging the state, backed by a potent national nonprofit that defends conservative Christian values.
Bates on April 3 sued the state in U.S. District Court, claiming her Constitutional rights were violated. She wants a court to declare a state administrative rule is contrary to those rights, enjoin the state from enforcing it and allow her to proceed with adopting children.
READ IT: Jessica Bates lawsuit
“Unfortunately for Jessica, she lives in a state where officials look down on those with traditional religious beliefs about human sexuality,” according to the complaint. “The Oregon Department of Human Services (the Department or DHS) has promulgated a rule that persons seeking to adopt must ‘accept’ and ‘support’ the sexual orientation and gender identity of any child the state could place in the applicant’s home.”
The case is being pressed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona group which as of Friday was featuring Bates on its website.
Bates couldn’t be reached for comment. She was seriously injured and lost her husband, David, in 2017 when an Idaho man crashed into them outside of Ontario while he was fleeing police. The case of Anthony Montwheeler drew national attention over his faked mental illness and he subsequently pleaded guilty for the 2017 crimes.
Since then, Bates has raised her children, now aged 10 to 17, on her own but with help from the community, according to the lawsuit.
“Her faith has anchored her through the grieving process, and she continues to find strength and take refuge in God,” the complaint said.
With her children, she regularly attends Vale Christian Church. Her older children participate in weekly Bible study and participate in church youth groups.
“Jessica and her children also pray and read scripture or devotionals most evenings,” the complaint said. “Jessica’s children help her to pray for clients at a pregnancy clinic where Jessica volunteers twice a month.”
Her decision to adopt children was triggered by a Christian radio broadcast about adoption.
“Jessica desires to adopt a sibling pair, who are younger than nine years old. She hopes that by adopting two children, each child will be less likely to feel alone or isolated.”
She started the state process last March and then ran into Oregon Administrative Rules.
The lawsuit describes a phone call last September to Bates from a state official, who “explained that because Jessica was unwilling to use a child’s preferred pronouns or affirm a child’s transgender identity, Jessica could not comply with DHS regulations.”
The adoption was off.
The regulation requires adoptive parents to “respect, accept and support the race, spiritual beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, disabilities, national origin, cultural identities, immigration status and socioeconomic status of a child or young adult in the care or custody of the Department, and provide opportunities to enhance the positive self-concept and understanding of the child or young adult’s heritage.”
The rule has been in place in Oregon since 2018, created in part in response to a state audit of the state’s child welfare agency. The January 2018 audit focused on foster care and involved interviews with children who were in the state’s care.
The audit cited youth who were LGBTQ+ – an abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning.
“Recruitment of LGBTQ+ friendly foster homes is limited to a handful of scattered efforts,” auditors reported. “Children we spoke with also reported not feeling respected or listened to and attributed this to an organizational culture at DHS which is unwelcoming and unequipped to work with LGBTQ+ youth.”
Auditors reported that LGBTQ foster children “told us how painful it was to be in a home where their gender identity and sexual orientation were treated as problems rather than an important part of their identity.”
The Department of Human Services on Thursday released a statement standing behind its rule.
“The Child Welfare Division stands in support of transgender, non-binary, gender-fluid and other LGBTQIA2S+ children, young people and families, including those who are in foster care and those who have been adopted,” the agency statement said.
“At a time when gender diverse people, policies, and laws are under attack, it is important to reinforce our values and practices related to the children and families we serve,” the statement continued. “We are committed to creating a safe and supportive environment for all children and young people, regardless of their gender identity.”
Agency officials otherwise declined to address Bates’ lawsuit.
Bates lays out her contrary beliefs about human sexuality and gender in detail in her complaint.
“Jessica believes that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, that God created humans as male and female,” the complaint said. “Jessica believes that a person cannot choose his or her gender because a person’s earthly identity is inextricably intertwined with their sex” and that people should not “engage in any conduct or speech that suggests a male can be a female.”
The complaint said the state rule that would require Bates to accept the orientation or gender identity of any child violates her religious beliefs.
“The agency rule compels Jessica to speak words she is religiously obligated to avoid,” it said.
“Jessica cannot attend or participate in – or facilitate her children’s attendance or participation in – gay-pride parades.”
The complaint details the need for foster and adoptive homes in Oregon and casts the state rule as impeding help.
“Oregon refuses to let Jessica even be considered for adopting these children because it thinks her religious beliefs make her unfit to be a parent. That means there’s one less home for these children – all because officials are putting politics above people.”
Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected].
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