Opinion: Tennessee couple’s struggle to adopt shows religious freedom is under siege in America

The Rutan-Rams (and six others) have now filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and its commissioner. According to court documents cited by The Washington Post, the Holston United Methodist Home for Children (which is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit) told the couple in an email: “As a Christian organization, our team management made the decision several years ago to only provide prospective adoptive families who share our belief system in order to avoid conflict or delays in providing future services.”

Holston told the Post, “Holston Home places children with families who 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.”

The agency, despite being a religious organization, receives taxpayer funding and helps families (on behalf of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, which declined to comment to The Washington Post, citing impending litigation) with foster care, training and other related activities. services.

Despite the fact that they are, in part, funded by the state to care for all children and serve all expectant parents, the agency says such discrimination is part of their religious freedom.

No one should be denied the opportunity to provide a loving home for adopted children because of their religious beliefs. Rutan-Ram’s denial marks another example of the right’s manipulation of religious freedom to undermine religious freedom for all but a privileged few.

Their lawsuit comes two years after Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill giving legal protection to taxpayer-funded fostering and adoption agencies that refuse services based on religion or ethnicity. sexual orientation. The lawsuit argues that this law violates the religious freedom and equal protection guarantees of the Tennessee Constitution. (Similar laws also exist in states like Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Virginia.)

We are both, in different ways, affected by this so-called religious freedom to allow discrimination.

As a Muslim, I (Siddiqi) might be denied access to certain government services like foster and adoption simply because of the way I choose to pray. And I (Graves-Fitzsimmons) am a Protestant Christian myself, but I still wouldn’t qualify for government services from the Tennessee agency or many other places because I’m gay. Even though I was ordained a deacon in a Baptist church, I’m not the right type of Protestant Christian.

Religious freedom is a treasured American value that empowers people of all faiths to practice our religious traditions (or choose not to), without fear. But now, in several states, right-wing Christians are subverting religious freedom, twisting it into a license to violate religious freedom, discriminating against religious minorities, non-religious people and other Americans who hold beliefs different from their own.

This attempt to redefine religious freedom is part of the growing Christian nationalist movement. Christian nationalism is, as Georgetown professor Paul D. Miller writes, a “political ideology” rather than a religious ideology, which seeks to “define America as a Christian nation” in which our government must “promote a specific cultural model as an official culture”. from the country.”

By redefining America in this way, Christian nationalism similarly defines who cannot be part of America – namely, non-Christians, as well as others who do not fit the cultural model of the movement. – such as people of color, immigrants and LGBTQ. people.

Make no mistake: Christian nationalism is the opposite of religious freedom. What these right-wing actors are advocating is not religious freedom, but rather the possibility for certain Christians to be exempted from laws that do not conform to their theology.

Christian nationalism is closely tied to white supremacy. Both fundamentally share the idea that America is only for people who share their white Christian identity, an identity that necessarily excludes American Jews. There is an alarming rise in anti-Semitism in the United States, visible in acts of violence and discrimination. We must do all we can to protect the rights and safety of religious minorities in our country.
Another high-profile legal challenge is unfolding in South Carolina. There, a Protestant child welfare agency that receives taxpayer funds refused a Catholic woman and a Jewish woman to mentor a foster child.
After the trial, the agency changed its policy to start working with certain potential families who are Catholic and Orthodox (which is still, of course, discriminatory). At the time, the agency’s president and CEO said the agency wanted to avoid a “fight against other branches of Christianity” and said, “We realize that it can be offensive to have such a strong belief in God, but that’s the only answer we want to be there… We don’t want to be a spokesperson for another religion or group of individuals. just stay true to what we believe in and continue to serve people as best we can eventually serve them.”

Unfortunately, the 6-3 conservative majority on the US Supreme Court seems receptive to this right-wing Christian legal push.

According to Vox’s Ian Millhiser, “Federal justice is rapidly turning into a forum for hearing the grievances of religious conservatives. And the Supreme Court is rapidly changing the rules of the game to benefit those conservatives.”
Since Amy Coney Barrett joined the court, he has taken a hard-line approach to religious freedom when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. Along with a desire to allow religious freedom to be a license to discriminate, the same Christian groups have pushed him to seek special exemptions from public health regulations amid a deadly pandemic. But every branch of government, including the courts, has a responsibility to uphold religious freedom for all Americans.

You don’t have to be a religious minority or LGBTQ to see why a license to discriminate in the name of religion is untenable. Right-wing Christians cannot create a parallel legal system consistent with their conservative theology. There should be one set of laws that applies to all of us and protects the rights and safety of all Americans to freely practice their faith.

Now is the time for all of us to come together across faith traditions in defense of true religious freedom. Part of this defense is being clear about what is and is not religious freedom.


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