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UMC leadership neutral as affiliated children's home sues to stop Biden admin. LGBT policy

United Methodist Church General Conference
View of the stage during the United Methodist Church's special session General Conference inside the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. |

Regional and national leaders in the United Methodist Church are not taking a stance on a lawsuit that a Tennessee-based UMC children’s home has leveled against the Biden administration over a rule that would require the home to place children with same-sex couples. 

Holston United Methodist Home for Children sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week after the agency rescinded exemptions enacted by the Trump administration to an Obama-era LGBT nondiscrimination policy barring discrimination in HHS-funded foster programs based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The charity’s lawsuit comes amid a much-publicized divide in the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States surrounding same-sex marriage and homosexuality. The Christian Post reached out to the national and regional UMC bodies to comment on the charity’s lawsuit. 

The UMC Holston Conference, a regional UMC body where the Holston Home is located, emailed The Christian Post a statement on Tuesday saying that any questions should be directed to the charity itself.

“The Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church and the Holston United Methodist Home for Children share a historic ministry connection,” read the statement.

“As a separate institution, Holston Home has a board of trustees that guides their decision-making process. All inquires concerning their leadership and decisions should be directed to the Holston Home for Children.”

The UMC Council of Bishops is also not releasing a statement or support or opposition. A spokesperson explained to CP on Tuesday that the national leadership “doesn’t comment on annual conference ministries.”

In the federal lawsuit, Holston Home contends that the HHS’ policy “would substantially burden Holston Home’s exercise of its religious beliefs to knowingly engage in child-placing activities in connection with couples who may be romantically cohabitating but not married, or who are couples of the same biological sex.”

Holston United Methodist Home for Children
Holston United Methodist Home for Children, a Christian charity based in Tennessee. |

“If Holston Home were to knowingly engage in child-placing activities concerning placements of children in connection with couples who may be romantically cohabitating but are not married, or who are couples of the same biological sex, it would need to engage in speech with which Holston Home disagrees and which violate Holston Home’s religious beliefs,” the lawsuit argues. 

The regulation was enacted in 2016 during the Obama administration. Although President Donald Trump issued exemptions for faith-based organizations, these were recently rescinded by the Biden administration.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia that a Catholic charity could not be excluded from the city's foster program because the organization would not place children with same-sex couples.

Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the court’s opinion, concluding that “the city has burdened the religious exercise of [Catholic Social Services] through policies that do not meet the requirement of being neutral and generally applicable.”

“Government fails to act neutrally when it proceeds in a manner intolerant of religious beliefs or restricts practices because of their religious nature,” wrote Roberts.

“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless it agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny, and violates the First Amendment.”  

The HHS contends that the policy enacted during the previous administration “permits a contractor whose purpose and/or character is not primarily religious to qualify for the Executive Order 11246 religious exemption.”

“[T]his … undermines the government’s long-standing policy of requiring that federal contractors provide equal employment opportunity, subject to a religious exemption for contractors with primarily religious purpose and character,” an HHS policy proposal reads. 

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