Couples Sue After Being Kicked Out of State Foster Care Program Over Christian Beliefs

Two Christian couples are suing Vermont state officials over being booted from the foster care program over their Christian beliefs.

The couples, Brian and Kaitlyn Wuoti and Michael and Rebecca Gantt, complained in the suit that the state violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

According to a complaint filed in federal court on June 4, they alleged that the Vermont Department of Children and Families refused to renew their foster care licenses because they opposed the DCF’s policy regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.

The complaint is chiefly concerned with the application of DCF Policy 76 – “Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Children & Youth.”

“Policy 76 provides internal guidance for Department staff on placing children who express an LGBT identity, and training foster families on how to support the child’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression,” the complaint said.

The court documents said DCF policies require foster parents to “support children in wearing hairstyles, clothing, and accessories affirming of the child’s racial, cultural, tribal, religious, or gender identity.”

The complaint alleged that the Wuotis’ license was denied solely “based on their statements explaining their religious beliefs about the human body and sexual ethics.”

DCF also apparently issued a letter to the Gantts explaining that their license was denied due to their “stance regarding the requirement for affirming care and the fact that they could not envision any education or intervention that may help to shift [their] perspectives.”

Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse,  an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, is representing the couples. He told the Christian Post that he believes Vermont’s policy violates his clients’ constitutional rights.

“The Supreme Court has said for decades that states can’t force citizens to say something that they don’t believe as a condition of receiving a license or any kind of government benefit,” he said.

“And here, Vermont is telling the parents that they have to violate their sincerely-held religious beliefs just to serve alongside others and to help vulnerable children.”

Aryka Radke, deputy commissioner of the DCF’s Family Services Division and one of the named defendants in the complaint, spoke in defense of DCF’s decision to deny the license renewals.

“It is a human right for all to be valued and supported, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Radke said. “The Family Services Division is here to serve all, and upholds that expectation for both its staff, as well as the foster parents who agree to take on the care of the youth in our custody.”

Radke also argued that the timing of the suit wasn’t a coincidence.

“It bears mentioning that this suit was filed at the start of pride month — a time when we reflect on the achievements and continued struggles of the LGBTQI+ movement. The department stands in partnership with the community, and continually works to be a better partner, ally, and support system — rather than a barrier to the children and youth who identify as part of this community.”

The couples have demonstrated profound courage in refusing to compromise their beliefs.

It’s disheartening that these people are apparently being singled out solely for their religious beliefs.

The DCF’s actions demonstrate how our society has an ever-growing negative perception of religion.

Moreover, in addition to its societal impact, this case could have important implications when it comes to First Amendment jurisprudence.

It’s worth noting that this situation bears resemblance to Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case that was before the Supreme Court in 2021.

In a unanimous decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court ruled that Philadelphia’s refusal to enter into a foster care contract with Catholic Social Services based on their beliefs on sexual orientation and gender ideology violated CSS’s First Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court held that the city failed to act in a neutral and generally applicable manner, which is the standard the government must satisfy if laws that burden religion are to survive a First Amendment challenge.

Roberts noted that “a law is not generally applicable if it invites the government to consider the particular reasons for a person’s conduct by creating a mechanism for individualized exemptions.”

“Government fails to act neutrally when it proceeds in a manner intolerant of religious beliefs or restricts practices because of their religious nature,” Roberts wrote.

The Supreme Court has been trending toward expanding First Amendment protections over the past few years. Based on this trajectory, and the similarities with Fulton, the couples should have confidence in their chances at success.

Whatever the result, this case could have a profound effect on religious freedom in America.


This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

 

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