Michigan Settlement Rules Catholic Adoption Agency May Refuse Placement with Same-Sex Couples
A proposed settlement filed in Michigan federal court last week ruled that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) cannot prohibit religious child placement agencies that contract with the state from refusing to place children with same-sex couples.
The ruling by the U.S. District Court followed a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June in favor of a Philadelphia Catholic adoption agency that said placing children with same-sex foster or adoptive parents was against its core beliefs.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a majority opinion on the case that Philadelphia’s refusal to work with Catholic Social Services violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan said in its settlement proposal that the Supreme Court ruling also applies to the state and limits how the MDHHS can enforce non-discrimination policies.
St. Vincent Catholic Charities had named MDHHS Children’s Services Agency Executive Director Demetrius Starling as a defendant in the case along with Elizabeth Hertel, director of the MDHHS, and Dana Nessel, Michigan attorney general. The settlement says MDHHS cannot take any action against St. Vincent’s or terminate its contract because the agency does not approve a same-sex or unmarried couple as a foster parent or adoptive parent and will not conduct a home evaluation for a same-sex or unmarried couple.
Under the proposal, which is pending judge approval, MDHHS will pay $550,000 in attorney fees to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented St. Vincent’s.
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The Michigan Catholic Conference applauded the settlement agreement, saying it allowed faith-based adoption and foster care providers to “continue to operate according to their religious mission.”
“Faith-based placement agencies such as Catholic Charities operate according to their religious teaching and are staffed and administered by individuals who carry their faith into their daily lives to care for the vulnerable and to serve others,” the Conference said in a statement. “This ‘freedom to serve’ regrettably has been targeted in recent years as some organizations and elected officials have sought to litigate religious agencies out of the public square.”
In a similar religious liberty case, a Jewish Tennessee couple recently sued that state’s Children’s Services Department after a state-funded agency, Holston United Methodist Home for Children, allegedly refused to provide them with foster and adoption services because they are not Christians.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee last year signed into law House Bill 836, which authorizes taxpayer-funded foster-care agencies in Tennessee to deny services to prospective families who don’t follow their religious tenets.