Adoption agency shutdown halted
Religious Liberty | Court upholds right of Christian organization to follow its beliefs
by Steve West
Posted 10/12/20, 04:30 pm
New York told the Syracuse-based adoption agency New Hope Family Services it had to place children with same-sex couples or not place them at all. But a federal court stepped in last week, ruling the agency could continue to operate according to its Biblical beliefs, for now.
U.S. District Judge Mae A. D’Agostino ruled against New Hope in January 2019, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision earlier this summer and sent it back for reconsideration. Following directions from the 2nd Circuit, D’Agostino said on Oct. 5 the agency would likely succeed in its lawsuit against the state and could continue operating according to its beliefs until the case was resolved.
In 2011, New York’s Office of Children and Family Services prohibited state-licensed agencies from discriminating in its selection of adoptive parents on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The state reviewed New Hope in late 2018 and said its policy of not placing children with same-sex or unmarried couples violated the rule. The reviewer allegedly told the agency that failing to comply was “choosing to close,” but added, “Some Christian ministries have decided to compromise and stay open,” according to the lawsuit.
State and local officials have made similar threats against religious adoption agencies across the country. St. Vincent Catholic Services in Lansing, Mich., faced closure until a federal judge in May 2019 temporarily blocked enforcement of a state agency’s nondiscrimination rule. Catholic Charities West Michigan in Grand Rapids filed a separate case, which is pending.
The adoption agencies are looking to the Supreme Court for a long-term solution. On Nov. 4, the justices will hear Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which asks whether the city can bar Catholic Social Services from placing foster children because it only works with applicants who hold a Biblical view of marriage. The case will likely spur the court to reconsider Employment Division v. Smith, a 1991 ruling that the government can burden the free exercise of religion without a compelling interest as long as the law applies neutrally to everyone.
Until then, this win for adoptive families and children is great news, Roger Brooks of Alliance Defending Freedom said: “Today’s ruling signals that the state’s attempt to shutter New Hope violated core rights protected by the First Amendment—the freedom to speak what you believe and the freedom to practice the teachings of your faith.”
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Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @slntplanet.