KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Two lawsuits could bring adoption and religion to the courtroom over discrepancies between state and federal laws.

Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram are suing the state of Tennessee after they were denied by an adoption service provider denied entry into their foster parent training program based on their religion. The Rutan-Rams are Jewish.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the lawsuit Wednesday, Jan. 19, on behalf of the Knox County couple. According to the suit, Holston United Methodist Home for Children initially agreed to provide the state-required training to the Rutan-Rams but reneged saying it “only provide[s] adoption services to prospective adoptive families that share our [Christian] belief system.”

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services required the couple to complete a foster-parent-training
program and receive a home-study certification. However, a Tennessee law passed in 2020 allows private licensed child-placing agencies to to deny services to families based on religious or moral beliefs.

Bradley Williams, president and CEO of Holston United Methodist Home for Children, said forcing the adoption service provider to provide for those that don’t hold their beliefs “is wrong and contrary to a free society.”

Holston United Methodist Home for Children is also involved in a federal lawsuit related to the case. They are suing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over a change in federal rules made during the Biden administration.

The federal department ended former President Donald Trump’s policy in November that kept discrimination rules from applying to faith-based adoption agencies that get federal funding.

“Since 1895, Holston United Methodist Home for Children has been committed to Christian biblical principles in our calling to provide hope and healing for a brighter future by sharing the love of Jesus with children and families struggling with life’s challenges,” Williams said. “Everything Holston Home does is guided by our religious views. We seek to be a force for good, living out the words of Christ to care for children and ‘the least of these,’ and it is vital that Holston Home, as a religious organization, remains free to continue placing at-risk children in loving, Christian families, according to our deeply held beliefs.

“We view the caregivers we partner with as extensions of our ministry team serving children. So from the very beginning, we seek to find alignment with them, and if we cannot do so, we try to help them find an agency that may be a better fit.”

The Rutan-Rams’ lawsuit says they were not able to find another child-placing agency in the Knox County area “willing to provide them the services they needed to complete the state requirements for adoption of an out-of-state child.”

The Holston United Methodist Home for Children contradicted that claim.

“Finding other agencies is not hard to do. In Tennessee, for example, there are six other agencies for each one faith-based provider,” Williams said. “Vulnerable children should not lose access to Christian families who choose to become foster or adoptive parents. Holston Home places children with families that agree with our statement of faith, and forcing Holston Home to violate our beliefs and place children in homes that do not share our faith is wrong and contrary to a free society.”

WATE reached out to the Rutan-Rams for a statement. They have not replied back.