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Catholic foster agency wins $550,000 settlement from Michigan

FULTON v PHILIDELPHIA

Becket

J-P Mauro - published on 01/29/22

The lawsuit was settled in light of the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Fulton v Philadelphia, a similar First Amendment case.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has been ordered to continue working with St. Vincent Catholic Charities. The decision comes after a three-year legal battle that arose when the Catholic organization refused to place children in foster or adoptive homes of same-sex couples. The ruling also orders the state to pay the Catholic Charities’ legal fees of $550,000.

CNA reports that the case began in 2019, when Michigan imposed requirements on adoptions and foster agencies to match children in need with same-sex couples or qualifying LGBTQ+ individuals. The decision was meant to prevent discrimination, but for St. Vincent Catholic Charities, the oldest adoption and foster care agency in the state, the ruling had the opposite effect. 

Becket

In June 2019, the agency teamed with the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, and filed a lawsuit that claimed the new requirements infringed on St. Vincent’s religious freedom. Also represented in the lawsuit were Shamber Flore, a former foster child with St. Vincent, and Melissa and Chad Buck, who have adopted five children with special needs through the Catholic adoption agency.

According to Becket, in September 2019 the district court ordered Michigan to continue working with St. Vincent as the case went on. The district noted that “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.” St. Vincent has not ceased supporting foster children since the case began.

Fulton

The state’s decision to settle the lawsuit comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision in Fulton v City of Philadelphia (2021), which ruled that a foster care agency had the First-Amendment right to restrict placement to families that follow its religious principles.

The Fulton ruling was deliberately narrow, and there had been some concern that it would not apply outside of Philadelphia. Aleteia’s own John Burger noted that it was unclear whether the ruling would be applicable to other “charitable ministries.” An example of this could be Boston Catholic Charities, which withdrew from adoption services in 2006 after identifying that they could be compelled by Massachusetts law to place children with same-sex couples. Burger quoted Thomas Olp, vice president and senior counsel of the Thomas More Society:

“It seems like, unfortunately, kind of a narrow ruling that satisfies the case at hand but doesn’t really deal with the real issue, which is how do you deal with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,” Olp said in an interview.

Adoption

Becket has hailed the St. Vincent settlement as a great success. According to Christian Headlines, had the case ended differently, there would have been fewer children adopted in Michigan. Furthermore, they cast light on another vital issue regarding foster care, and one that Catholic Charities addresses more than anyone else

“There are over 13,000 foster children in Michigan alone,” Becket said. “Each year, over 600 Michigan children ‘age out’ of the foster system, meaning that at the age of 18 they are on their own, never having found a family to provide stability, love and support or a permanent place to call home. No one addresses this issue more effectively than faith-based agencies.”

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AdoptionUnited States
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