Easter v. HHS

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Status: Open
Court:
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
Issues: Religious Exemptions, Youth in Out-of-Home Care

Lambda Legal and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, together with the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with several HHS officials and programs, for enabling and sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ foster parent applicants by organizations that receive taxpayer funds to care for unaccompanied refugee children.

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Lambda Legal and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, together with the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with several HHS officials and programs, for enabling and sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ foster parent applicants by organizations that receive taxpayer funds to care for unaccompanied refugee children.

The case, Easter v. HHS, was filed on behalf of Kelly Easter, from East Nashville, Tenn., who wishes to become a foster parent for a child in a federal foster care program for immigrant children. Easter’s inquiry to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was directed to the only entity participating in the program in her area: Bethany Christian Services, a sub-grantee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which receives federal funds to provide foster care services. Bethany refused to permit Easter to apply to be a foster parent solely because she is a lesbian. Easter reported this discrimination to ORR. When Bethany’s national leadership announced earlier this year that it had changed its policy and would now accept LGBTQ families, Easter again attempted to apply. However, a representative from Bethany informed her that she still would not be permitted to apply to the program near her home because Bethany operates that program as a sub-grantee of USCCB, which continues to exclude LGBTQ foster parent applicants from participation. For years the federal government has known that USCCB discriminates and requires its sub-grantees to discriminate against LGBTQ foster parent applicants, reducing the number of available homes for children in need, and sending a damaging message to LGBTQ adults and children alike that there is something wrong with their families. Yet HHS officials continue to enable and sanction this discrimination.

There are more unaccompanied refugee children in the federal government’s care than there are eligible foster homes available for these children. By allowing USCCB to require its subgrantees to use religion to discriminate against LGBTQ people, the federal government is harming prospective parents and vulnerable children who are denied the opportunity to find safe, loving homes. By sanctioning and enabling discrimination and favoring certain religious beliefs, the government is violating the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.