SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A Christian adoption agency has filed a federal lawsuit after the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) gave the entity an ultimatum to either change its policies in regard to only placing children in homes with both a mother and father or discontinue its foster and adoption program.
New Hope Family Services of Syracuse, which was founded in 1965 by a pastor and seeks “to be Christ’s hands extended to offer hope and help to people with pregnancy, parenting, adoption, or post-abortion needs,” says in its complaint that it was visited in September by a representative of the New York OCFS for an official review that included meeting with staff and perusing sample records.
Syracuse regional office Director Sara Simon later sent New Hope Interim Director Judy Geyer a letter that, while requesting a few policy adjustments, praised the organization for its work.
“Our office found that your program has a number of strengths in providing adoption services within the community. One of which is the strong emphasis on assisting the birth parents in making an informed decision for their newborn, providing them time to make the decision, along with a supportive and detailed adoptive family selection process,” the correspondence read.
However, just days later, Geyer received a phone call from Suzanne Colligan, who had conducted the review, to advise that a problem had been found with the faith-based organization’s placement policies. Colligan reportedly told Geyer that New Hope must allow placement with unmarried couples and homosexuals, or the adoption agency would be “choosing to close.”
Geyer said that New Hope could in no way violate its religious convictions and that the organization would “never choose to close. You will be forcing us to close.” According to the legal challenge, Colligan advised during the call that “[s]ome Christian ministries have decided to compromise and stay open.”
Geyer soon after received a formal letter from Laura Velez, the deputy commissioner of OCFS division of child welfare and community services.
“It was found that the agency’s policy pertaining to not placing ‘children with those who are living together without the benefit of
marriage’ or ‘same sex couples’ violates Title 18 NYCRR § 421.3, and is discriminatory and impermissible,” Velez wrote.
She requested a formal response in regard to revising the policy to eliminate the exclusion, and warned that “should the agency fail to bring the policy into compliance with the regulation, OFCS will be unable to approve continuation of NHFS’ current adoption program and NHFS will be required to submit a close-out plan for the adoption program.”
New Hope Family Services has consequently decided to take the matter to court in order to continue serving children in the state without having to violate their Christian convictions in the process.
Its formal complaint states that several other faith-based agencies have lost their authorization because of the State’s requirements, and points to a quote from OCFS spokesperson Monica Mahaffey in the Buffalo News, in which she declared, “Discrimination of any kind is illegal and in this case OCFS will vigorously enforce the laws designed to protect the rights of children and same sex couples. … There is no place for providers that choose not to follow the law.”
New Hope also outlined that it has had to turn away four prospective adoptive families because of OCFS’ threats, and rather refer them elsewhere, as well as four expectant birth mothers who wanted help placing their children up for adoption.
The organization also operates its own pregnancy resource center, and says that its work to help mothers with unplanned pregnancies will likewise be negatively impacted if it is unable to place children in foster care or with adoptive families.
“OCFS has conditioned New Hope’s perpetual authorization to perform adoption services on New Hope’s willingness to renounce or violate its religious beliefs pertaining to marriage and family,” the legal challenge states.
“Defendant has violated the unconstitutional conditions doctrine by conditioning New Hope’s perpetual authorization to provide adoption services on its willingness to relinquish its First Amendment rights,” it contends.
New Hope says that there are numerous secular adoption agencies in the state that work with unmarried or same-sex households, and that the government does not need to force a Christian organization to violate its mission or give up its right to the free exercise of religion to accomplish its purposes.
It is seeking an injunction against OCFS enforcement, as well as a declaration that the government’s actions violate the adoption agency’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.