An appeals court has revived a Christian adoption agency’s lawsuit against officials in New York state who are seeking to force the charity to place children with unmarried and same-sex couples instead of referring them to other providers.
New Hope Family Services filed a lawsuit against state officials after it was told that its policy of only placing children in married heterosexual homes violated a 2013 state law.
In 2018, New York’s Office of Children and Family Services concluded that New Hope violated a 2013 state law prohibiting discrimination against applicants for adoption services on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status.
A three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Tuesday to send the case back down to the district court, ruling in favor of the Christian charity.
Circuit Judge Reena Raggi authored the panel opinion, writing that New Hope had a valid “suspicion of religious animosity” in light of how state law was being used against the Christian adoption agency.
“… for New Hope to continue its adoption ministry in New York, OCFS insisted that it ‘compromise’ — i.e., abandon — its own religious views about family and marriage and subscribe to the state’s orthodoxy on such matters,” wrote Raggi.
“Construed in this light, the allegations cannot be dismissed for failing to state a plausible Free Exercise claim.”
Raggi also believed that “further inquiry” was warranted over why New Hope was not seen as violating state antidiscrimination from 2013 to 2018.
“It is plainly a serious step to order an authorized adoption agency such as New Hope — operating without complaint for 50 years, taking no government funding, successfully placing approximately 1,000 children, and with adoptions pending or being supervised — to close all its adoption operations,” continued Raggi.
“All the more serious when, as just discussed, the agency has, for five years and without objection by OCFS, used recusal and referral to avoid rejecting applicants on the basis of its religious beliefs.”
Alliance Defending Freedom's Vice President of Appellate Advocacy, John Bursch, whose organization is representing New Hope, celebrated the appeals court decision.
“New Hope’s faith-based services do nothing to interfere with other adoption providers, but banishing it means fewer kids will find permanent homes, fewer adoptive parents will ever welcome their new child, and fewer birth parents will enjoy the exceptional support that New Hope has offered for decades,” stated Bursch.
“Additionally, government officials are not being neutral when they single out religious organizations for hostile treatment based on their beliefs about marriage. That’s a flagrant violation of the U.S. Constitution.”
In recent years, some Christian adoption agencies have found themselves at odds with states seeking to have them conform to antidiscrimination laws mandating that they place children in same-sex or LGBT households.
In February, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments in the case of Fulton v. Philadelphia, centered on the issue of faith-based adoption agencies and government support.
In that case, Catholic foster care parents sued Philadelphia for no longer placing children with Catholic Social Services because the group does not place children with same-sex couples.