US Christian couples rejected as foster parents

An unlikely front in the assault on religious freedom rights which has emerged in both the United States and Australia is in the area of foster care. Increasingly, couples wishing to become foster parents are being required to affirm LGBTQ+ policies and practices in order to qualify.

This issue was recently tested in Australia in 2022.

HRLA clients and Christian couple Byron and Keira Hordyk challenged the decision of a foster care agency to reject their application to become foster parents on the basis of their Christian views. They were ultimately successful, with the Western Australian State Administrative Tribunal finding that the decision of the foster care agency amounted to unlawful discrimination.

The decision has set an important precedent in Australian law about the need for religious convictions to be accommodated in decisions made by government agencies.

In the United States, Christian couples are now also facing similar challenges.

Brian and Katy Wuoti are a Christian couple who attempted to renew their foster care licence in Vermont in the United States. Although they have been licensed foster parents since 2015 and have adopted two of the children that had previously been in their care, a new policy requiring foster parents to support children's gender identities has put the couple in a difficult position.

The new policy requires that parents “support children’s identities even if it feels uncomfortable,” use pronouns that are inconsistent with their children’s sex, and take children to events like Pride parades that express views contrary to the parents’ beliefs.”

The Wuotis' commitment to their Christian faith, which includes beliefs about marriage and sexuality, conflicts with the new policy. Despite their willingness to love and support any child, (with one supervisor in the department saying she ‘could not hand pick a more wonderful foster family’), their adherence to their religious convictions has led to a recommendation to terminate their foster care licence.

Another Christian couple, Bryan and Rebecca Gantt, who have fostered and adopted children with special needs, are now facing the same dilemma. After being asked to affirm LGBTQ+ identities as part of their licence renewal, they too found themselves unable to comply on the basis of their religious beliefs. This has led to their foster care licence being revoked, despite their proven track record of providing a loving home for children in need.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a legal organisation committed to protecting religious freedom rights around the world, is representing both couples. It has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the families, arguing that Vermont's policy violates the First Amendment by compelling foster parents to endorse beliefs that conflict with their faith. The lawsuit will assert that “every child deserves a loving home, and children suffer when the government excludes people of faith from adoption and foster care”.

Here in Australia, HRLA successfully represented the Hordyks as they challenged the unlawful actions of the foster care agency.

In choosing and winning strategic legal cases, the importance of the work of organisations such as HRLA and ADF has become increasingly evident in the fight to ensure that religious freedom rights in both countries are protected and upheld in law.