The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the state of Michigan Wednesday over a 2015 law that allows private adoption agencies which receive state contracts and taxpayer funds to “use religious criteria to screen prospective foster and adoptive parents for children in the foster care system and to turn away qualified families on the basis of sexual orientation.”
They claim that allowing religious adoption agencies to screen out applicants based on sexual orientation “harms vulnerable children by denying them access to loving families that they desperately need and violates the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution.”
The ACLU seeks declaratory and injunctive relief ensuring that “private child placing agencies that are contracted by the State and funded with tax dollars to provide adoption and foster care services to children, do not turn away same-sex couples or other potentially qualified families based on religious eligibility criteria.”
“Decisions about adoption and foster family placements should be made based on the needs of the child, not the religious beliefs of the agency,” Jay Kaplan, staff attorney at the ACLU of Michigan’s Nancy Katz and Margo Dichtemiller LGBT Project said in a statement. “There are 13,000 children in Michigan’s child welfare system. Allowing agencies to turn away loving, qualified families based on religious criteria creates fewer families for children, reducing their chances of being placed in a suitable family, or any family at all.”
However, proponents of the law, signed by Governor Rick Snyder (R), argue that religious-based adoption groups face a threat to their religious freedom and would close if they were forced to go against their beliefs and place children with same-sex couples.
Gov. Snyder cited a letter he received from Bethany Christian Services arguing that requiring religious groups to place children with gay parents requires them "to abandon their faith or abandon the children they serve."
"That is an untenable choice, one that inevitably results in fewer resources available to recruit families and place children in loving homes," they wrote.
"Focus on the Family strongly supports the religious freedom rights of all businesses and organizations, including faith-based adoption agencies," Jim Daly, president of the Christian organization, Focus on the Family commented Wednesday.
"Not only have the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby and Trinity Lutheran decisions reaffirmed long-standing principles by which government should respect the free exercise rights of organizations that seek to operate according to their deeply held beliefs, but such respect enables entities like faith-based adoption agencies to fill a critical need in society," he said.
Michigan is one of just seven states with laws exempting religious adoption providers from facilitating adoptions for same-sex couples. The others states are Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia.
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) is attempting to pass the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2017, which would withhold 15 percent of federal funds for child welfare programs from states that refuse to contract with agencies for their religious beliefs.
“There is no good reason why any of these care providers should be disqualified from working with their government to serve America’s families simply because of their deeply-rooted religious beliefs,” Kelly said in a statement introducing the legislation in April.
“When it comes to helping kids and making families stronger, all service providers – religious or otherwise – should have a seat at the table,” he emphasized. “No provider should ever be forced to violate their faith in order to help give each kid a loving and caring family.”