A Catholic charity in Michigan that sought protection last year for its foster care and adoption services is back in court—this time to defend its refugee resettlement work.
Lansing-based St. Vincent Catholic Charities’ court battle with the state over the charity’s Biblical beliefs about marriage made national headlines in September when a federal judge issued a temporary order in its favor. U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker said Michigan could not enforce a state regulation requiring religious child-placing agencies to work with unmarried or same-sex couples.
At a hearing in November, the Ingham County Board of Commissioners renewed a $128,000 contract with St. Vincent that funded health services for refugees from around the world, but only after some commissioners criticized the organization’s Biblical views on same-sex marriage. Commissioner Emily Stivers—who describes herself on Twitter as a “progressive, bisexual mom”—called the charity “morally bankrupt,” while others decried St. Vincent as anti-LGBT. Commissioners reluctantly approved the contract, instructing the county’s health department to come up with alternatives in the future.
In November, county commissioners terminated a $4,500 annual grant for refugee resettlement services—home purchasing and maintenance, language services, and job skills training—against the recommendation of the county controller. It was the only one of the 32 grant applications submitted by community organizations the board denied. Another $40,000 annual contract for interpreting services for refugees at county health centers is at risk when it comes up for renewal on Jan. 31.
St. Vincent runs the only refugee resettlement program in Ingham County, serving more than 100 refugees each year from Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere through a program the U.S. State Department, the state of Michigan, and Ingham County oversee. It is funded by federal, state, and local money supplemented by private contributions and provides the same services to LGBT refugees as to others.
That assistance is critical to refugees, said Becket’s Lori Windham, who represents the organization. St. Vincent has asked a judge to order the county to reinstate the grant it lost and protect it from future loss of funds because of religious discrimination.
“You can imagine arriving in this country, fleeing persecution,” Windham said. “You need a home, basic medical care, a job, language training—and St. Vincent provides all of those things.” She added that the charity’s staff meets refugees at the airport, helps them find housing, takes them to medical appointments, provides them with interpreters, and helps with job training—in short, everything they need to successfully adapt to a new life.
“St. Vincent serves LGBT refugees, so this is just retaliation, plain and simple,” Windham said. “It’s not just retaliation for the [adoption and foster care] lawsuit, but some of those contracts also involve state and federal agencies who are also party to that litigation,” suggesting that agencies view this as another front in their ongoing battle to elevate LGBT rights over religious liberty.
A hearing on St. Vincent’s motion for a preliminary injunction is expected no later than Jan. 31.