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A Faustian Bargain Against Catholic Adoption Agencies

April 8, 2019 Frontpage No Comments

By MIKE MANNO

St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Michigan operates like many similar agencies across the United States in partnering with state and local governments to recruit and support foster and adoptive families. In 2017 alone, St. Vincent recruited more adoptive families than ninety percent of other agencies in its service area.
St. Vincent, however, has one big problem: It is Catholic and it operates by its Catholic principles, which means it would not place children in homes with unmarried cohabitants or same-sex couples. It never prevented any other agency from doing so; it simply refused to do so on principle.
In 2017, as I’ve reported here before, a lesbian couple made an inquiry at St. Vincent, but was referred to another agency. Naturally the couple sued in federal court and the ACLU took on the case against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to prevent the state from forming partnerships with agencies that “discriminated against” LGBTQ individuals. The suit was filed on September 30 of that year.
The following December, St. Vincent, with legal assistance from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberties, moved to intervene in the suit and the court granted that motion in March of 2018. The case more or less moved forward as all such cases do: Motions were filed and orders were entered, and discovery had begun. From all outward appearances, everything was moving as one would expect.
But then there was an election. Last November, a Democrat lesbian named Dana Nessel was elected attorney general. The new AG was the attorney who, in 2014, successfully argued against a state law that prohibited same-sex marriage. In January shortly after taking office, she took a number of steps which, considering her background, were pretty predictable.
She first joined a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s changes in the Obamacare rules that exempted religious groups and those morally opposed from the requirement that they provide contraception coverage for all employees. Then she announced that she was establishing a “Hate Crimes Unit” in the attorney general’s office. That unit was to focus on so-called hate groups as identified by the largely discredited Southern Poverty Law Center, which has singled out groups for opposing same-sex marriage and abortion as hate organizations.
In announcing her anti-hate campaign, Nessel said she was not just looking for individual criminal acts, but an overall message of hate. Thus Catholics, conservative Christians, and other groups that uphold traditional values could be seen as natural targets in her hate probe.
In addition to all of that, as the legal representative of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, she asked the court, in conjunction with the ACLU, for a stay in the proceedings so the parties could work out a settlement which was granted on January 24. St. Vincent, an intervener, but not a party, was not included in the settlement talks.
On March 22 of this year a settlement agreement between Nessel’s justice department and the ACLU was filed and approved by U.S. District Court Judge Paul D. Borman, a 1994 Clinton appointee to the bench. The judge approved the agreement, which now stands as case law, despite the fact that St. Vincent was left out in the dark and that Michigan law specifically protects adoption and foster-care agencies who act in conformance with their religious tradition.
Under the terms of the now court order, the Department of Health and Human Services may not partner with any agency which rejects “an otherwise potentially qualified LGBTQ individual or same-sex couple that may be a suitable foster or adoptive family for any child accepted” by the agency.
Violations of the agreement by any agency, such as St. Vincent, would cause the agency to effectively be put out of business, such as in the case reported here in January involving New Hope Family Services, which was told by New York officials that it must abandon its faith-based policies or cease operations.
The settlement agreement that Nessel and the ACLU have adopted is seven single-spaced pages that reads more like a legislative act than a settlement of a claim. It not only reads like a legislative act, the parties intended it to serve as a judicially adopted amendment to the governing state law and to be enforced accordingly.
How this was done, of course, raises numerous ethical questions and whether or not Nessel should have recused herself and her department from defending the state, much as Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, an abortion supporter, did when suit was filed over the state’s heartbeat legislation.
Miller didn’t play games, he simply stepped aside and allowed the state to employ the Thomas More Society to defend the law.
Obviously, as an attorney I’m very concerned when parties can “settle” a lawsuit in a manner that — as this did — ignores the interests of interested parties whose rights will be affected by it. It is especially troublesome to me that in this case a party whose rights were being eclipsed, St. Vincent, had sought and was granted intervention in the case but was outflanked by the combination of a very political and leftist attorney general and a very political and leftist ACLU. I would think that the judge has some blame here in not recognizing — or perhaps just ignoring — the fact.
This, of course, is just the continuation of the left’s war against Christian and Catholic adoption agencies. Massachusetts, Illinois, the District of Columbia, and other venues have successfully driven out Catholic Charities and adoption agencies from their boundaries.
Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, who was left out of the settlement agreement, said this:
“The Michigan attorney general and the ACLU are trying to stop the state from working with faith-based adoption agencies. The result of that will be tragic. Thousands of children will be kept from finding the loving homes they deserve. This settlement violates the state law protecting religious adoption agencies. This harms children and families waiting for forever [for] homes and limits access for couples who chose to partner with those agencies.”
This all was done in spite of the fact that in Michigan alone over 600 children “age out” of the foster-care system every year, leaving them — at 18 — without family, resources, or the parental support needed as they start their lives as adults.
In Philadelphia last year, there were over 6,000 children in the foster-care system and in March of 2018 it put out an urgent call for more foster families. The same month it placed that urgent call, it abruptly stopped all foster-care referrals to Catholic Social Services because of its policy to uphold traditional Catholic values in placing children. There was no fancy court action in Philly, just a directive. It was politically correct to do so.
And so the story goes. Political expediency trumps child welfare. And we are a civilized society? We have a long fight ahead of us on many fronts.
(Mike can be reached at: DeaconMike@q.com.)

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