Vt. Families Lose Foster Care Licenses Over Religious Beliefs

Vt. Families Lose Foster Care Licenses Over Religious Beliefs

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on Tuesday filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Vermont families whose foster care licenses were revoked because their Biblical beliefs prevented them from affirming LGBTQ ideology.

“Vermont’s foster-care system is in crisis,” said ADF Legal Counsel Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse. “There aren’t enough families to care for vulnerable kids, and children born with drug dependencies have nowhere to call home. Yet Vermont is putting its ideological agenda ahead of the needs of these suffering kids.”

The foster care crisis even reached the point that the department began to place children in homes that were not yet licensed, as well as in hospitals and police stations.

Brian and Kay Wuoti had been licensed foster parents since 2014 and had adopted two children from foster care. Brian is a pastor and math teacher, and Kay homeschools their children.

Bryan and Rebecca Gantt called the Department for Children and Families (DCF) to inquire about foster care and adoption in 2016, and an infant was placed with them right away, before they were licensed. They became licensed two months later, and have adopted three children since.

In 2023, a new mandate came into effect regarding foster children’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression (SOGIE Mandate) in which the DCF began to require that all foster parents support any hypothetical child’s self-proclaimed LGBTQ identity.

In September of last year, the DCF sent out an email to all foster families, stating: “Eligibility for licensure is dependent on foster parents and applicants being able to support youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or another diverse identity (LGBTQI+) even if the foster parents hold divergent personal opinions or beliefs.”

One DCF employee said of the Wuotis that they were “AMAZING” and that she “could not hand pick a more wonderful foster family.” Upon a visit to their home by a DCF employee when they requested to renew their license, no concerns were raised. However, in April of 2022, the Wuotis’ foster care license was revoked for one single reason: They could not go against their faith by affirming a hypothetical child’s idea of their gender that is contrary to how the child was made by God. The department accused them of failing to be able to “meet the physical, emotional, developmental and educational needs of each foster child.” The revocation of their license was upheld after an appeal hearing.

Similarly, the Gantts were loved by the social workers at their local office. In September of 2023, DCF contacted them and informed them of a baby boy who was about to be born to a homeless woman addicted to drugs, and that they wanted a home to be set up before he was born. “The whole department agrees you’re the perfect home and first choice,” they said.

Not long after this, the SOGIE Mandate email was sent out. The Gantts, after prayer, responded that they would take the baby in, but Bryan expressed concern over the recent email. He said that while they would love and accept any child into their home, regardless of beliefs about gender, he and his wife could not could not compromise on their Biblical beliefs.

In February of this year, the Gantts’ license was revoked for the same reasons the Wuotis’ was. Examples stated were that the Gantts would not use inaccurate pronouns, nor would they take a child to a gay pride parade. “While you each can meet the needs of some foster children,” the department said, “rule 301 requires licensees to meet the ‘needs of each foster child.’ Your statements to DCF staff demonstrate you are unable to meet the ‘emotional and developmental’ needs of LGBTQ+ youth, as required by licensing rule 301.”

ADF’s complaint claims that the state’s mandates regarding LGBTQ ideology constitute compelled speech under the First Amendment in requiring foster parents to use children’s preferred pronouns and affirm a child’s self-proclaimed gender identity in other ways, such as attending pride parades. It also argues that the department’s mandates violate the families’ free exercise of religion by substantially burdening them to go against their sincerely held religious beliefs in order to retain their foster care licenses.

“Vermont seems to care little about the needs of vulnerable children, much less the constitutional rights of its citizens,” Widmalm-Delphonse said. “That’s why we’re suing them in federal court.”

Above: Rebecca and Bryan Gantt, one of the Christian couples who lost their foster care licenses.

Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom

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