LANSING, Michigan — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit on behalf of four lesbian women in an effort to stop officials in Michigan from contracting with religious adoption agencies that decline to place children in homes without both a mother and a father.
“Plaintiffs bring this complaint to challenge Defendants’ practice of permitting State-contracted and taxpayer-funded child placing agencies to use religious criteria to screen prospective foster and adoptive parents for children in the foster care system and to turn away qualified families on the basis of sexual orientation,” the lawsuit, filed against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Michigan Children’s Services Agency, reads.
While the ACLU claims that it is not seeking to challenge “the right of any private child placing agency to practice its religion,” it says that the State must ensure that the private placement agencies it hires are not screening prospective parents through the lens of their religious beliefs.
“DHHS is aware that these agencies are turning away these potentially qualified families solely for religious reasons but DHHS has not stopped them from engaging in this conduct,” the complaint states. “When the State delegates its statutory child-welfare responsibilities to private agencies, those private agencies must execute their state-contracted responsibilities subject to the same requirements applicable to the State.”
As of 2015, Michigan law provides that “a child placing agency shall not be required to provide any services if those services conflict with, or provide any services under circumstances that conflict with, the child placing agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs.” However, the ACLU says that the State shouldn’t be working with groups that decline to place children with homosexuals.
Its legal challenge is filed on behalf of four lesbian women who, since the law has gone into effect, contacted Christian and Catholic adoption agencies—specifically St. Vincent’s Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services—in an effort to adopt a child. Because both organizations operate in accordance with their religious beliefs, they do not place children in homes where there is not both a mother and a father.
“When somebody calls in with interest to become a foster parent or adoptive parent … if they let us know they’re unmarried, or if they’re gay or lesbian, we immediately recommend, make a referral to another agency … for other agencies that provide that service,” Jose Carrera, director of clinical services for St. Vincent Catholic Charities, told legislators when the Michigan law was first being considered.
Representatives therefore told the women that the agencies could not be of assistance, or that “same-sex couples aren’t our area of expertise.”
The lesbian women state in their lawsuit that they “object to the use of taxpayer funds to underwrite and endorse religious beliefs to which they do not subscribe.” They also contend that allowing State-hired religious adoption agencies to decline to place children with homosexuals deprives homosexuals “of their rights protected by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
“There is no legitimate government interest served by denying children access to potentially qualified families based on a religious exclusion,” the complaint states.
The ACLU is seeking a court injunction banning the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Michigan Children’s Services Agency from contracting with, or providing taxpayer funding to, any child placement agency that “employ religious criteria in decisions regarding the screening of prospective foster and adoptive parents.”
Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, weighed in on the matter on Wednesday.
“Not only have the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby and Trinity Lutheran decisions reaffirmed long-standing principles by which government should respect the free exercise rights of organizations that seek to operate according to their deeply held beliefs, but such respect enables entities like faith-based adoption agencies to fill a critical need in society,” he said.