A spokesman for the Department of Children’s Services declined to comment on the case, saying the agency does not comment on pending litigation. The office of the Tennessee attorney general, Herbert H. Slatery III, did not reply to an email. Holston United Methodist Home for Children, the agency that refused to work with the Rutan-Rams, referred questions to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal organization in Scottsdale, Ariz., which did not reply to an email.
Holston’s president, Bradley Williams, said in a statement that the agency was “committed to Christian biblical principles” and “places children with families that agree with our statement of faith.”
“We view the caregivers we partner with as extensions of our ministry team serving children,” he said. “So from the very beginning, we seek to find alignment with them, and if we cannot do so, we try to help them find an agency that may be a better fit.”
The couple first saw the boy, who was about 3 years old, last January, Ms. Rutan-Ram said in an interview on Thursday, on the website for the Heart Gallery of Tampa, a nonprofit organization that profiles children in the foster-care system and helps match them with adoptive families. Drawn to his smile, his age and his resilience in overcoming developmental challenges, the Rutan-Rams decided to start the adoption process.
Ms. Rutan-Ram said she had asked Holston “if us being a Jewish household would be a problem.” The agency said it would get back to them, she recalled. At first, Holston agreed to provide the mandated parent training and home-study certification, which would then be presented to Florida before the guardianship could take effect, the lawsuit said.
The couple would have then been eligible to foster the child in their home for six months before adopting him. But on Jan. 21, 2021, the day they were scheduled to begin the foster parent training class, Melissa Russell, a Holston employee, emailed Ms. Rutan-Ram.
The lawsuit quoted the email as saying, “As a Christian organization, our executive team made the decision several years ago to only provide adoption services to prospective adoptive families that share our belief system in order to avoid conflicts or delays with future service delivery.”