The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit issued a resounding victory Tuesday for New Hope Family Services, a faith-based adoption provider. The court reversed a district court’s dismissal of New Hope’s lawsuit against New York officials seeking to shut down the provider simply for its religious beliefs about marriage. In November, at the request of Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing New Hope, the 2nd Circuit temporarily halted state officials from interrupting current adoption placements or mandating the closure of New Hope’s adoption program until the court had a chance to consider whether to reverse the federal district court’s decision. The case now goes back to district court for further proceedings.
The New York State Office of Children and Family Services singled out the religious nonprofit for its policy prioritizing the placement of children it serves in homes with a married mother and father. In its decision in favor of New Hope, the 2nd Circuit concluded that the district court should not have dismissed the lawsuit because the adoption provider’s arguments demonstrate that the government’s regulation may not have been neutral and may instead have been “informed by hostility toward certain religious beliefs.”
“Every child deserves a permanent home with loving parents,” said ADF Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “As the 2nd Circuit rightly noted, ‘The need for adoption services in New York, whether public or private, is undeniably great.’ New Hope’s faith-based services do nothing to interfere with other adoption providers, but banishing it means fewer kids will find permanent homes, fewer adoptive parents will ever welcome their new child, and fewer birth parents will enjoy the exceptional support that New Hope has offered for decades. Additionally, government officials are not being neutral when they single out religious organizations for hostile treatment based on their beliefs about marriage. That’s a flagrant violation of the U.S. Constitution.”
As the 2nd Circuit noted in its opinion in New Hope Family Services v. Poole, “The Supreme Court has declined to fault such religious views about marriage, observing that ‘[m]any who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.’ Indeed, the Court has suggested that differing secular and religious views in this area should be allowed to coexist. This is evident from the fact that, at the same time that the Court ruled that the Constitution does not permit government to prohibit same-sex marriage, it ‘emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.’” [citations omitted]
New Hope operates as an adoption agency, temporary-foster-placement agency, and pregnancy resource center. The nonprofit accepts no government funding and, besides the fees paid by adoptive parents, funds its ministry through support from churches, individual donors, and private grants.
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In the past, OCFS has praised New Hope for the quality of its services, but the state agency later changed course and singled out the nonprofit’s policy regarding child placements. OCFS described the policy as “discriminatory and impermissible” despite the fact that New Hope respectfully refers couples to other providers and has faced no formal complaints from prospective parents due to the policy. OCFS provided an ultimatum that New Hope revise its policy or submit a close-out plan for its adoption program.
“It is plainly a serious step to order an authorized adoption agency such as New Hope—operating without complaint for 50 years, taking no government funding, successfully placing approximately 1,000 children, and with adoptions pending or being supervised—to close all its adoption operations,” the 2nd Circuit wrote, adding that, moving forward, the district court must “take into account the best interests of the many children awaiting adoption in a State where they number far more than the persons willing to adopt them.”