I.F. Stone liked to say that The New York Times was the world’s most exciting newspaper, because you never knew where you were going to find a front-page story.
That’s certainly the case today, as the Times buries what might be the most important and disturbing news of the day at the bottom of page A22. That’s where we learn that Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram, a Tennessee couple, were refused their request to adopt a child from a state-funded agency because they’re Jewish. The agency, the Holston United Methodist Home for Children, which claims to be Christian, insists that adoptive couples adhere to “Christian biblical principles.” The Rutan-Rams, who had sought to adopt a 3-year-old boy living in Florida, are now suing the state with the help of Americans United for the Separation of Church and state.
“I felt like I’d been punched in the gut,” Elizabeth Rutan-Ram said in a news release quoted by the Knoxville News Sentinel, which reported on the case last week. “It was the first time I felt discriminated against because I am Jewish. It was very shocking. And it was very hurtful that the agency seemed to think that a child would be better off in state custody than with a loving family like us.”
What could be enabling this grotesque antisemitism? According to the Times, the case “comes nearly two years after Gov. Bill Lee signed a law that allows state-funded child-placement agencies to decline to assist in cases that ‘would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.'” Lee, a Republican, acted despite being warned by the ACLU that it was unconstitutional.
I’m glad that the Times at least picked up on this. And I realize that print placement doesn’t mean a whole lot these days. But it’s still a signal of what the editors think is important, and the Times remains a cheat sheet for other news organizations across the country. This is an enormously important story — a further indication of the dark places into which the Republican right is dragging us.
My Northeastern colleague Laurel Leff wrote a book some years back called “Buried by the Times,” which detailed how the Times played down news about the Holocaust during World War II. Though the two situations can hardly be compared, it is nevertheless disturbing to see the Times today giving such short shrift to a modern case of antisemitism.
The plight of the Rutan-Rams — and the role of Tennessee officials — should be in the headlines for days to come. And the Times should follow up. On page one.