Alliance Defending Freedom Takes on Washington’s Foster Care Regulations in DeGross Case

Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Christian couple in Washington against the state’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) after being denied the renewal of their foster care license due to their religious beliefs.

Shane and Jennifer DeGross served as foster parents for nine years, caring for four children. However, when the DeGrosses sought to renew their foster care license in 2022 in order to serve as respite-care providers, they were informed of new state regulations that required them to use pronouns and identities that conflicted with a child’s biological sex, as well as take children to events like Pride parades.

As Christians, the DeGrosses hold the belief that God created people as either male or female and that sex cannot be changed. They informed the foster care licensing agency Olive Crest that while they would “love and support any child who is placed in [their] home,” they were not “willing to use a child’s preferred pronouns,” or to say that a male child “can identify as a female” or vice-versa, because of their religious beliefs, the lawsuit states.

Despite Olive Crest’s appeal on the DeGrosses’ behalf, noting their “heart for serving children” and “faithful ministry,” the DCYF denied their license renewal application. This decision comes in the wake of a previous federal court ruling in Blais v. Hunter, which held that “religious beliefs regarding LGBTQ+ issues cannot serve to disqualify” foster applicants.

What is Alliance Defending Freedom?

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life.

Alliance Defending Freedom Church & Ministry Alliance are ministry-focused arms of Alliance Defending Freedom that provide legal resources to churches and ministries of all denominations on religious liberty issues to empower them to uphold their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.

In DeGross v. Hunter, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys argued that the state’s new foster care regulations violated the freedom of speech and expression of the plaintiffs.

According to the complaint, the regulations require foster parents to use a child’s preferred pronouns, effectively compelling them to express the state’s preferred views on gender identity and sexuality. ADF attorneys contended that this infringes on the DeGrosses’ right to be free from being forced to speak messages they disagree with.

Beyond compelling specific speech, the lawsuit states the regulations also restrict the DeGrosses’ speech and association by requiring applicants to remain silent and refrain from expressing their own views on human sexuality that differ from the Department’s preferred views.

“Because[regulation] §1520 requires applicants to speak certain words and engage in certain expressive activities, the Department’s policy compels speech and association. Because [regulation] §1520 requires applicants to stay silent and refrain from expressing certain views on human sexuality, the Department’s policy restricts speech and association,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also argued that the state’s policy infringed the DeGrosses’ free exercise of religion under the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion by conditioning their ability to serve as foster parents on doing things that conflict with their sincere religious beliefs, like using a child’s preferred pronouns or taking them to Pride events.

ADF attorneys pointed out that the regulations force the DeGrosses to make a “choice between fidelity to their religious beliefs and serving children in foster care” — a significant burden on their free exercise of religion. The complaint further argued that the Department’s policy is not neutral or generally applicable, as it provides exemptions for secular conduct but not for religious objectors like the DeGrosses.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleged that the regulations violated the DeGrosses’ right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. ADF contended that the policy categorically excludes applicants with religious beliefs the Department disfavors, discriminating against them on the basis of religion and treating them worse than similarly situated non-religious applicants.

ADF Legal Counsel Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse says Washington state officials are putting their own ideological agenda ahead of children who just need a loving home. In a statement on Alliance Defending Freedom Media, Widmalm-Delphonse said, “As a federal court has already affirmed in Blais v. Hunter, this exclusion is unconstitutional—religious beliefs about human sexuality are not a legitimate or constitutional reason to categorically bar citizens from helping children. Washington is putting families like the DeGrosses to an impossible choice: speak against your faith and lie or give up the opportunity to care for hurting children. That is illegal and wrong.”

The lawsuit comes at a time when Washington’s foster care system is struggling to find enough caregivers, with over 10,000 children served annually and children sometimes needing to be placed in hotels or cars due to a “lack of available homes.”

With Washington’s families like the DeGrosses being turned away due to their faith, the system faces an even greater shortage of foster parents willing to open their homes to vulnerable children.

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