Foster families take Michigan’s Attorney General to court

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A mother of five children with special needs and a faith-based adoption agency are taking the Michigan Attorney General to court for allegedly violating their First Amendment rights and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in western Michigan’s U.S. District Court on behalf of St. Vincent Catholic Charities. It is among more than 90 agencies receiving state funding to help place children from troubled homes with new families, according to the complaint.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is challenging a settlement that prevents them from refusing to put children in LGBT homes for religious reasons.

The suit was brought less than a month after the legal agreement was announced by Nessel and the American Civil Liberties of Michigan. They sued the state in 2017 on behalf of two lesbian couples who alleged they had been turned away because they are gay. Nessel has said such discrimination is illegal.

A 2015 Republican-enacted law says child-placement agencies are not required to provide any services that conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs. But the settlement says the law does not apply if agencies are under contract with the state — a determination challenged by those suing.

After taking office in January, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a directive to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people by state government, contractors and others.

Democrats, LGBT advocates and liberal groups have applauded the settlement for ending a “policy of bigotry.”

It superseded an order that former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed and, unlike his, does not provide an exemption for religious organizations.

The U.S. government is named as a defendant, said Becket Lawyer Nick Reaves, because Nessel relied in part on federal regulations to say the state cannot allow religious exemptions from allegedly applicable anti-discrimination laws, and “some clarity” is needed on the Trump administration’s position.

As of February, Bethany Christian Services, Catholic Charities and St. Vincent were responsible for more than 1,600, or 12 percent, of the state’s 13,000-plus foster care and adoption cases.

Faith-based agencies have said they will shut down their adoption and foster care services rather than violate their religious beliefs.

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