Michigan foster families and St. Vincent Catholic Charities are suing the state of Michigan and Health and Human Services to allow the non-profit to continue its work placing the state’s foster children in forever homes. In March, the American Civil Liberties Union and Michigan attorney general signed a settlement for a 2017 lawsuit, barring Michigan from working with faith-based adoption agencies because of their religious beliefs about marriage.
Now, with the help of Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, St. Vincent is filing their own lawsuit in federal court. According to HHS, every year about 50,000 children in the United States are adopted through state child welfare systems, but about 20,000 additional children “age out” before being placed in a home.
Michigan, like many states, partners with private adoption and foster agencies to unite these children with loving families. In 2017, St. Vincent recruited more new adoptive families than nearly 90 percent of the other agencies in its area. State spokesperson Bob Wheaton told AP that, as of February, St. Vincent and Bethany Christian Services had completed 12 percent of the entire state’s foster care and adoption cases.
Michigan now holds that St. Vincent will be penalized if they decline to make written certifications about marriage that conflict with their religious beliefs, even though gay couples working with other agencies have been able to adopt children in St. Vincent’s care in the past. Halting the social work of St. Vincent will leave thousands of children in foster care limbo, and lead to a shortage of homes available for them.
“Faith-based agencies like St. Vincent consistently do the best work because of their faith, and we need more agencies like them helping children—not fewer,” said Becket President Mark Rienzi in a statement. “The actions by the Attorney General of Michigan do nothing but harm the thousands of at-risk children in desperate need of loving homes.”
The lawsuit suit is against both Michigan and HHS because the the Obama administration put a policy into place in its closing days, ruling that any groups publicly licensed and receiving money from HHS cannot discriminate on the basis of religion. This rule contradicts a Michigan law that protects taxpayer-funded, faith-based organizations from policies that discriminate against religious beliefs.
In January, the Trump administration’s HHS issued a waiver allowing faith-based foster care agencies in South Carolina to restrict placements to families that share their Christian beliefs. Melissa and Chad Buck, two of the foster parents suing alongside St. Vincent, adopted five children with special needs through St. Vincent Catholic Charities.
“My five children have a home and a future today thanks to St. Vincent, and my husband and I still rely on St. Vincent’s vital support in every step of our journey together as a family. We are hopeful that the courts will step in, do the right thing and allow faith-based agencies to continue to help vulnerable families like mine,” she said.
This is not the first time Michigan’s attorney general Dana Nessel has fought with Catholic adoption agencies. When this issue with state-funded, faith-based adoption agencies in Michigan was raised in 2015, Nessel was the attorney representing a lesbian couple with adopted children of their own. After Michigan lawmakers passed protections for religious adoption agencies, Nessel called the catholic charities “hate mongers” and declared their services “a disaster for the children and the state.”