Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Punishing the helpers

Religious Liberty | Michigan county seeks to strip faith-based charity of refugee resettlement work
by Steve West
Posted 1/07/20, 02:02 pm

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.

Associated Press/Photo by Lynne Sladky Associated Press/Photo by Lynne Sladky Paula White (second from left) and others pray with President Donald Trump at the King Jesus International Ministry church in Miami on Friday

Church and politics

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked the IRS to investigate King Jesus International Ministry for hosting an Evangelicals for Trump rally on Friday at its 7,000-seat sanctuary in Miami. A letter sent to the IRS by the atheist activist group on Dec. 31 cites regulations barring tax-exempt organizations from participating or intervening in political campaigns.

“We are defending religion itself, it’s under siege,” President Donald Trump told 5,000 rally attendees. “A society without religion cannot prosper.” He railed against those who “want to impose absolute conformity by censoring speech, tearing down crosses and symbols of faith, and banning religious believers from public life.”

FFRF said Pastor Guillermo Maldonado’s comments urging members of the Hispanic megachurch that teaches the prosperity gospel to come to the rally, to “do it for your pastor,” as reported by the Miami Herald, were inappropriate and violated IRS regulations. Maldonado told the Herald that his church did not organize or finance the president’s event. —S.W.

Getty Images/Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP Getty Images/Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP A drag queen story hour event in Riverside, Calif.

Unrelenting

Washington state prosecutors are appealing their case against a Spokane pastor for attempting to observe a drag queen story hour. Pastor Afshin Yaghtin of New Covenant Baptist Church was arrested and subsequently prosecuted for entering the Spokane Public Library’s South Hill branch in June. The library was hosting a now-common event where a man dressed as a woman reads to children.

A Spokane municipal court judge dismissed the case, finding that police engaged in unlawful viewpoint discrimination when they arrested Yaghtin. A court denied a request for reconsideration of the ruling on Dec. 31, and prosecutors appealed.

Jorge Ramos, the Seattle attorney for the Pacific Justice Institute who represented Yaghtin, emphasized that the prosecution did not refute the judge’s finding that law enforcement told Yaghtin to move based on his expressed beliefs. “We are grateful that the judge reaffirmed her decision and disregarded the prosecution’s escalated rhetoric,” Ramos said. “Unfortunately, our focus now must shift to the Court of Appeals.” —S.W.

Steve West

Steve is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course.

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  • news2me
    Posted: Wed, 01/08/2020 07:02 pm

    Why are Dems given a pass for inviting Dems to speak in their churches?

  • news2me
    Posted: Wed, 01/08/2020 07:08 pm

    against a Spokane pastor for attempting to observe a drag queen story hour. Pastor Afshin Yaghtin of New Covenant Baptist Church was arrested and subsequently prosecuted for entering the Spokane Public Library’s South Hill branch in June. 

    I guess Washington State now has thought police. Tried and convicted for observing because they know what he is thinking.

    Yeah, we have arrived. How many people have left Washington? 

  • OldMike
    Posted: Thu, 01/09/2020 12:05 am

    All of these illustrate that the spirit of the antichrist is active in every part of the world. 

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