A federal lawsuit alleging discrimination in a foster parent program has been resolved, with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops dropping its opposition to a lesbian caring for refugee children.
Kelly Easter was raised in a Southern Baptist home where she learned of the Christian call to serve “the least of these.” After hearing of the plight of refugee children and the shortage of Americans willing to take these children into their homes for temporary care, Easter, a Realtor in Nashville, determined she could help. She contacted the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement and was directed to the only entity participating in the program in her area: Bethany Christian Services, an approved partner of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which receives federal funds to provide foster care services.
Although Bethany recently had changed its policies and agreed to work with LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents, the particular program and location Easter needed to access was controlled by pass-through federal funding from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. That meant Easter was denied service there. She could have worked with Bethany at another location that was far away from her home, which was impossible due to the frequency of visits to that office required.
This dispute went on for two years until Easter, with help from Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Lambda Legal, filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for discrimination against LGBTQ foster parent applicants by organizations that receive taxpayer funds to care for unaccompanied refugee children.
Eight months later, the Conference of Catholic Bishops told the federal government it no longer has a religious objection to working with a single lesbian foster parent.
Because Easter is now being allowed to participate in the program through the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, she voluntarily dismissed her case against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“This is a win for religious freedom, Kelly Easter and the vulnerable refugee children she’ll now be able to help,” said Rachel Laser, president of Americans United. “But it’s a victory that should not have taken two years to achieve. The federal government should never allow a taxpayer-funded agency to discriminate against prospective foster parents because they don’t live according to its religious beliefs. Our laws cannot allow anyone to use their religious beliefs to harm others, and especially not vulnerable children and the commendable people like Kelly who want to help them.”
However, Americans United and Lambda Legal said this is only a “partial win” in a larger battle.
“USCCB’s policy may now permit single LGBTQ parents to foster children, but the agency still discriminates against married same-sex couples like Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin. The couple was rejected by a USCCB sub-grantee in Texas because, as a married same-sex couple, they didn’t ‘mirror the Holy Family’ as the agency requires,” a joint statement explained.
Lambda Legal and Americans United also represent Marouf and Esplin in the federal lawsuit Marouf v. HHS.