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We were loving foster care parents until Washington state insisted we violate our faith

OpinionWe were loving foster care parents until Washington state insisted we violate our faith

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In Washington state, political ideology is the state’s litmus test for determining who can be a loving parent. 
 
In 2022, we served as foster care parents for just over nine years and decided to renew our license to continue caring for vulnerable kids. But state officials did not want us because of our religious beliefs — beliefs about sexuality and gender held by millions of other Americans. 
 
The Bible instructs us to care for widows and orphans. That was part of what led us in 2013 to help those in foster care. We loved every child that came to our home, including a newborn straight from the hospital and a 2-year-old girl whom our two young sons loved like a little sister. We cared for two other young girls as well. We experienced the superlative joy of seeing toddlers grow and the bittersweet goodbyes as the children were reunited with their biological mom, grandma, or another loving parent. 

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We also knew about the state’s tremendous need: Every year, thousands of children enter the state’s foster care system. And every year, the state has a need for long-term caregivers and, particularly, for respite-care providers — parents who can provide short-term relief to families caring for children with critical needs, or who can act as stopgaps for children moving between homes.  

Shane and Jennifer DeGross are foster parents battling Washington state over the freedom to exercise their faith.

Things are so dire that the state has forced hundreds of children to sleep in hotel rooms, on a cot at a state official’s office, or in a car — experiences that the Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds office called “disruptive” and traumatic for children. 
 
When we decided to renew our license, we wanted to meet that need by focusing on respite care for a season. But Washington state had recently enacted new policies on “SOGIE” or “sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”  

According to the state, parents must embrace the state’s view on gender ideology and use a foster child’s “pronouns and chosen name” based on their gender identity, not their sex. Parents must also take children to “cultural” events like pride parades. 
 
During the licensing process, we explained that we will love any child placed in our home, but we can’t say or do things that violate our faith. Based on common sense and religious conscience, we believe that girls can’t be boys or vice versa. We can’t lie to children to encourage them to think otherwise. 

According to the state, that meant we could not care for any child of any age for any amount of time — regardless of their beliefs or identity. Because we could not agree to speak against our faith, the state denied our application and categorically excluded us for no reason except that it did not like our religious beliefs. That matters more to Washington officials than helping children as young as 4 who may have nowhere to go but a hotel room. 
 
We could provide a loving home. We had the experience. We had been faithfully caring for children without a single complaint. But the state did not care. Washington values its political agenda over children’s welfare. 
 
We knew the state’s actions were wrong. Government officials violated the First Amendment. So, with the legal help of Alliance Defending Freedom, we’re suing the state for putting politics above the interests of the most vulnerable children. 

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We know foster care is hard work. Ask any foster parents, and they’ll tell you this isn’t for the faint of heart. You love kids fiercely, with an open hand and open heart, not knowing how long they’ll be entrusted to your care. It’s taxing and rewarding, painful and joyful.  

According to the state, parents must embrace the state’s view on gender ideology and use a foster child’s “pronouns and chosen name” based on their gender identity, not their sex. Parents must also take children to “cultural” events like pride parades. 

Many kids in the foster care system have behavioral issues because of past experiences. As a foster parent, you bear some physical, emotional and mental costs of caring for kids without knowing how long they’ll be with you. But in the end, it’s a joy. We served in this capacity because that’s what God called us to do, and we know how much He loves each precious child. 
 
To then be told by the state that you aren’t qualified because of your religious beliefs is wrong. Religious families who want to serve in foster care or adoption shouldn’t have to choose between following God’s word or serving children. Nor should the state force any caregiver — whether religious or not — to speak the state’s ideology as a precondition for parenting. 

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Most of all, we’re taking this stand for the children in foster care. That’s whom the state’s discriminatory policy hurts most, taking away their chance to find a loving home. 
 
Every child deserves this. Children suffer when the government excludes people of faith from adoption and foster care. The court must strike down this discriminatory policy that ends up hurting kids most. 

Jennifer DeGross lives in Washington state. 

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