A federal court has concluded that a New York-based Christian adoption agency cannot be forced to close down because of its policy of only placing kids in married heterosexual families.
New Hope Family Services filed suit against state officials after it was told that its faith-based policy of only placing children in married heterosexual homes violated a 2013 state law.
U.S. District Court Judge Mae D'Agostino granted New Hope a preliminary injunction against the New York Office of Children and Family Services’ interpretation of the law.
In her decision on Monday, D'Agostino concluded that the OCFS interpretation of the state adoption law against New Hope “demonstrates some animosity towards particular religious beliefs.”
“While not all of the evidence discussed weighs in favor of a finding of hostility when viewed individually, the totality of the evidence indicates that section 421.3(d), as promulgated and enforced by OCFS, is not neutral and appears to be based on some hostility towards New Hope's religious beliefs,” wrote D'Agostino.
“In finding hostility, the Court relies on a number of factors … Those factors include OCFS's implementation of the seemingly permissive language of New York Domestic Relations Law Section 110 as mandatory requirements in section 421.3(d), the severity of OCFS's actions and the lack of explanation as to the legal authority to engage in such action, and statements made by OCFS personnel which demonstrate their motivations in enforcing section 421.3(d).”
Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Roger Brooks, whose organization helped represent New Hope, celebrated the granting of the preliminary injunction.
“Today’s ruling signals that the state’s attempt to shutter New Hope violated core rights protected by the First Amendment—the freedom to speak what you believe and the freedom to practice the teachings of your faith,” said Brooks in a statement released Monday.
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“Thankfully, this ruling means that New Hope can continue offering the exceptional support it has provided for decades while its lawsuit challenging the state’s unconstitutional policy continues.”
In 2018, the New York OCFS 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.
In response, New Hope sued OCFS, accusing the government body of violating the First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights of the Christian charity.
New Hope has argued that their policy is based on their sincere religious beliefs and that whenever a same-sex or unmarried couple comes to them, they refer them to another agency.
In July, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated in part a lower court decision against New Hope, sending the case back to the district court.
Circuit Judge Reena Raggi authored the circuit panel opinion, concluding that New Hope had a valid “suspicion of religious animosity” in light of how state law was used against them.
“… 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.”