State Tries to Close Catholic Adoption Agency Because It Wants to Place Kids With a Mother and Father

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 22, 2019   |   8:46PM   |   Lansing, Michigan

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing an adoption and foster care provider participated in a federal court hearing Wednesday in their lawsuit against Michigan officials. Catholic Charities West Michigan asked the court to stop those officials from illegally targeting it and forcing it to close because of its religious beliefs.

The hearing concerned Catholic Charities’ request for a preliminary injunction, which would prevent the state’s Department of Health and Human Services from enforcing a new policy that targets the ministry’s policy prioritizing the placement of children in homes with a mother and father.

“More adoption and foster care providers mean more children have the chance to be adopted or cared for by a foster family,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman, who will argue before the court Wednesday.

He added: “Michigan law already affirms that faith-based ministries, including Catholic Charities West Michigan, provide key services to the state and may continue to serve children in a way that aligns with their beliefs. Protecting Catholic Charities does nothing to burden other providers who hold different convictions, but shutting down this nonprofit, faith-based provider means fewer children are reunited with their birth parents or placed with loving foster or adoptive parents. That’s why we are asking the court to halt the state from taking action against our client while our lawsuit moves forward.”

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For more than 70 years, Catholic Charities has served Western Michigan by offering a wide array of child welfare, family preservation, and behavioral health services. Within the past decade, the charity has placed approximately 4,500 children in homes and annually serves more than 21,000 individuals through its more than 35 ministries. Its foster care ministry focuses on family reunification and provides support well above the state’s minimum requirements. Catholic Charities offers monthly foster parent training opportunities; funding for children’s medical, dental, clothing, and extracurricular needs; and transportation for birth parents so they can be involved with children’s activities, despite temporary separation.

According to the lawsuitCatholic Charities West Michigan v. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the department changed its policy after settling another lawsuit, Dumont v. Lyon. In January 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state agency on behalf of two same-sex couples to stop it from contracting with faith-based foster care and adoption providers throughout the state. Although Michigan’s previous attorney general defended the agency’s ability to partner with such providers, the current attorney general, Dana Nessel, has refused to do so and has instead instructed the agency to exclude faith-based providers from contracts if they won’t agree to violate their own beliefs about marriage and family. Without a contract from the state of Michigan, Catholic Charities would be required to immediately suspend their foster care and public adoption ministry.

The lawsuit asks the court to protect Catholic Charities from being singled out, punished, or disfavored because of its religious beliefs—beliefs that motivate its care for children, birth parents, and other vulnerable members of the community. The lawsuit further argues that the new rule violates a 2015 state law specifically enacted to ensure that providers like Catholic Charities could maintain contracts with the state while maintaining their religious beliefs.

James R. Wierenga, one of nearly 3,400 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel for Catholic Charities West Michigan in the case.