Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin are a married couple who live in Fort Worth, Texas. Fatma teaches at Texas A&M School of Law and Bryn at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. The couple had long wanted to have children. They realized that they wanted to provide a home for an unaccompanied refugee child in 2017, after Fatma, through her work with her immigration clinic, connected with the head of Catholic Charities Fort Worth. Catholic Charities is a sub-grantee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which receives federal funds to provide shelter and assist with the placement of children in its custody.
Fatma and Bryn began exchanging emails with Catholic Charities about the next steps toward becoming a foster family. But during a phone interview, a representative mentioned that foster families must “mirror the Holy Family.” When the couple asked for clarification (and explained that they were a married same-sex couple), the Catholic Charities representative declared that they did not “qualify” to foster a refugee child through the taxpayer-funded program it operates for the federal government—simply because of their sexual orientation. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its subsidiaries apply their own religious criteria in administering the federal government’s refugee foster-care programs.
Fatma and Bryn, represented by Americans United, Lambda Legal, and the private law firm Hogan Lovells, sued the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for supporting unlawful discrimination by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in administering and operating the placement of refugee children on the government’s behalf. It violates the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution to fund and enable discrimination based on religious criteria against potential foster parents who would participate in the federal refugee resettlement program. When the government subsidizes the Bishops’ religion-based discrimination, it inflicts harm not only on prospective foster parents, but also on the refugee children whom the government deprives of opportunities to be placed in loving homes.
As a result of our lawsuit, the federal government has made changes to the refugee-children programs in the Dallas-Fort Worth region of Texas. In October 2022, we finished submitting our final briefs on the merits of the case. On July 7, 2023, the district court issued a final opinion and order dismissing the case, concluding that the government’s changes to the program resolved Fatma and Bryn’s claims and rendered the lawsuit moot.