The president of Holston United Methodist Home for Children provided more detail Friday about why the Greeneville-based organization has filed a lawsuit against the Biden Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Holston Home, a Christian nonprofit that operates throughout East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia caring for abused and neglected children through its residential and foster care services, “has made the decision to take legal action against a federal rule that has harmful implications for children and families,” the agency said in a news release.

Specifically, Holston Home’s lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Greeneville, challenges a Health and Human Services rule that prohibits child-placement programs receiving federal funding from ruling out applicants based on qualities including religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and same-sex marriage status.

The rule was first put into place in 2016 by the Obama Administration on anti-discrimination grounds. The Trump Administration issued religious exemptions to the rule, but the Biden Administration rescinded those exemptions in November.

The agency, which is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a faith-based nonprofit that focuses on legal advocacy for religious freedoms, says the rule would force it to violate its religious beliefs or risk losing federal funding it receives as reimbursement for some of its programs.

And that, ultimately, creates a harm to children, Bradley Williams, president of Holston United Methodist Home for Children, said in the agency’s news release.

“Children need loving and safe families to care for them after experiencing abuse, neglect or other traumatic events. For the last 126 years, Holston Home has answered that call along with so many other organizations in Tennessee and around the country. Faith-based agencies are now being expected to violate their deeply help religious beliefs in order to continue meeting this incredible need,” Williams said.

Established in 1895, Holston Home has served more than 8,000 young people and their families, and now the home’s “biblical Wesleyan values are being illegally restricted by rules from the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The rule would require Holston Home to place children with families that do not align with its statement of faith, such as non-Christian families, same-sex couples or unmarried, cohabitating couples,” the agency said in its news release.

“Our community’s most vulnerable children should not lose access to Christian families who chose to become foster or adoptive parents to serve and follow the Lord’s call of caring for the least of these,” Williams said. “Many families prefer to work with faith-based ministries, and faith-based ministries are far more effective than public or secular agencies in recruiting families from congregations and in educating them on the needs and options available to pour into the lives of kids.”

Holston Home pointed out in its news release that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee created the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2019 “in recognition that faith communities are called to care for our neighbors and provide healing.” From that effort came TN Fosters Hope, which it said “has invited faith-based ministries and churches to join the critical task of helping wounded and traumatized children.”

In Tennessee, approximately 85% of the organizations that provide child-placing services are secular or public entities, according to the news release, “which means that faith-based ministries result in finding loving homes for more children, while not a single family is prevented from providing care if we continue to allow faith-based ministries to participate in the program.”

“Holston Home loves and honors its national leaders, and it is committed to Christian biblical principles in its calling to provide hope and healing for a brighter future by sharing the love of Jesus with children and families struggling with life’s challenges. Diverse approaches in meeting the needs of America’s children should be encouraged. Eliminating religious organizations from the landscape does not accomplish this goal and it hurts kids. We have chosen to file this suit so that we can continue to care for the young people that the Lord has entrusted to us and help our state and country have the best possible services for children and families,” Williams said.

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