AT LEAST EIGHT STATES have passed laws specifically prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for same-sex couples participating in the foster care system, according to the Movement Advancement Project.
Ten states have laws or policies aimed at protecting faith-based groups. Historically, the Christian argument has been simple: The Bible teaches that God created marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, and it violates Scripture to approve practices that go against that teaching.
But religious freedom laws aren’t a bulwark against state interference. Legislators in Michigan passed such a law in 2015—just four years before the state demanded Christian groups reverse course on foster care.
Bill Blacquiere, then president of Bethany Christian Services, made a robust argument for why the religious freedom law was important and why Christian agencies shouldn’t be compelled to go against their consciences.
In a letter to the governor, Blacquiere wrote that the faith of some Christian groups already was under attack, with some local governments arguing “faith-based agencies must choose between their desire to help children and families and their fidelity to their religious principles.”
He noted that in other states, some child-placement agencies (most notably Catholics) “had to abandon their faith or abandon the children they serve.” Blacquiere called it “an untenable choice.”
The Michigan law passed, but the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in September 2017, saying the government shouldn’t allow any agency to decline working with same-sex couples, even if the practice violates the agency’s religious beliefs.
In 2018, Dana Nessel won office as attorney general of Michigan after promising she would not defend the religious liberty law in court. She had described its proponents as “hate-mongers.”
Earlier this year, Nessel reached a settlement agreement with the ACLU that gutted the law’s intention to protect religious groups and required faith-based agencies to provide endorsements of same-sex couples for foster care.
‘We will lose our religious freedoms if we refuse to fight.’ —Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition
The “untenable choice” had become an unavoidable conflict. The Catholics dug in. Bethany gave in.
Dan Jarvis of the Michigan Family Forum says he wished Bethany had joined the Catholic agency in its lawsuit. Given Bethany’s history of handling so many cases in a state with a shortage of foster care homes, Jarvis says he felt Bethany “held all the cards” to push back against government interference.
And it’s worrisome if the agency’s concession to government demands could undercut other Christians groups seeking to make a case for their own religious liberty in similar situations.
Why didn’t Bethany join the legal action?
Kris Faasse, a vice president at Bethany, said the organization had to consider the probabilities of winning in court and how long the case might drag on and then balance that with its desire to continue serving children in foster care.
The Sept. 26 ruling in St. Vincent’s favor shows the Catholic group has at least some probability of prevailing. A Michigan judge found “the State’s real goal is not to promote non-discriminatory child placements, but to stamp out St. Vincent’s religious belief and replace it with the State’s own.”