Saturday, November 19, 2022

Religious Children's Home Lacks Standing To Challenge Now-Defunct HHS Non-Discrimination Rule

 In Holston United Methodist Home for Children, Inc. v. Becerra, (ED TN, Nov. 18, 2022), a Tennessee federal district court held that a religiously affiliated children's home that places children for foster care or adoption lacks standing to challenge a 2016 anti-discrimination rule promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services. According to the court:

Holston Home requires prospective foster and adoptive parents to affirm a Christian statement of faith and beliefs before they can engage in child-placement activities.... Further, Holston Home does not place children with foster or adoptive parents who are in same-sex relationships or unmarried couples of any biological sex who are romantically cohabitating....

While the challenged rule, promulgated at the end of the Obama Administration, barred such restrictions, HHS policy had undergone successive changes in the Trump and Biden Administrations. These are traced at length in the court's 22-page opinion. In particular the court noted:

Although HHS had not enforced the 2016 Grants Rule since it became effective, on November 19, 2019, HHS published a formal notification in the Federal Register to inform the public that it would not enforce the 2016 Grants Rule after determining that the rulemaking raised “significant concerns about compliance with the Regulatory Flexibility Act [‘RFA’].”...

Because the 2016 Grants Rule is, for all intents and purposes, defunct pursuant to the Notification of Nonenforcement, Holston Home faces no credible threat of prosecution.... Having also failed to show any history of past enforcement of the 2016 Grants Rule, enforcement warning letters, or a feature of the regulation making it easier or more likely to be enforced, Holston Home lacks standing to bring this lawsuit.