State Can’t Close Catholic Adoption Agency for Placing Kids With a Mother and Father

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 28, 2022   |   12:19PM   |   Lansing, Michigan

In a huge victory in the state of Michigan, the state has reached a settlement with a Catholic adoption agency and will not be able to close it down just because it prefers to place children in families with a mother and father.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing an adoption and foster care provider participated in a federal court battle in their lawsuit against Michigan officials. St. Vincent Catholic Charities 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.

Thanks to the settlement, Christian adoption agencies and foster care groups that contract with the Michigan government can keep focusing on placing children with families with a mother and father.

St. Vincent Catholic Charities will now be exempted from state antidiscrimination law.

David Maluchnik, spokesman for the Michigan Catholic Conference, released a statement celebrating the result, seeing it as a victory for religious liberty.

“We are grateful that a law signed in 2015 with bipartisan support to uphold conscience rights will continue to benefit Michigan’s most vulnerable children who are served by a network of faith-based child placement agencies,” stated Maluchnik.

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“Despite a coordinated and high-profile ‘sue and settle’ strategy that sought to find the 2015 law unconstitutional, Michigan’s child placement policy now enjoys federal legal protections that solidifies and strengthens the right of religious agencies to assist a range of children and families in search of permanent homes.”

Another lawsuit involves Catholic Charities West Michigan, which filed against the state as well.

ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman says this will help with adopting more children.

“More adoption and foster care providers mean more children have the chance to be adopted or cared for by a foster family,” he said.

He added: “Michigan law already affirms that faith-based ministries 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.”

Another lawsuit is still pending against the state from Catholic Charities West Michigan.

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 asked 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.