New York gives Christian group 'ultimatum': change gay adoption policy or end placement program

Christian group sues New York over ultimatum to change gay adoption policy or end program

(Photo: Becket)
(Photo: Becket) | (Photo: Becket)

The state of New York has given a Syracuse-based Christian adoption agency an ultimatum to either change their adoption policy forbidding placement with same-sex couples or no longer be able to provide adoption services, a new lawsuit details.

New Hope Family Services has filed a federal lawsuit against the acting commissioner of the state’s Office of Children and Family Services on the ground that the nonprofit could be forced to phase out its adoption program if it doesn’t change its policy prioritizing placement in homes with both a mother and a father.

The organization, which was founded in 1965 and also provides foster services and pregnancy resources, has placed over 1,000 children in adoptive homes throughout the state since its founding.

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According to the legal nonprofit representing the organization, Alliance Defending Freedom, New Hope was founded “to be Christ’s hands extended to offer hope and help to people with pregnancy, parenting, adoption or post-abortion needs in the Syracuse area and throughout the State of New York.”

According to the lawsuit, New Hope does not accept state funding and funds its ministry through churches, donors and private grants.

The lawsuit details that the troubles for New Hope in late October after OFCS reviewed the organization's policy and procedures manual and took issue with the organization's placement policy. The review of the policy came after an agent of the agency did a site visit to New Hope and even took note of the “number of strengths” of New Hope’s adoption program.

But after reviewing the New Hope’s policies, OFCS labeled New Hope’s policy on gay adoption “discriminatory and impermissible.”

In a letter to New Hope, OFCS said the “agency’s policy pertaining to not placing ‘children with those who are living together without the benefit of marriage’ or ‘same sex couples’” violates Title 18 of the New York Code, Rules and Regulations.”

“The letter provided an ultimatum that New Hope either ‘revise the present policy and continue the existing adoption program’ or ‘fail to bring the policy into compliance with the regulation,’ in which case ‘OCFS will be unable to approve continuation of [New Hope’s] current adoption program and [New Hope] will be required to submit a close-out plan for the adoption program,’” the lawsuit explains.

The lawsuit argues that the state’s ultimatum for  New Hope would force the agency “to choose either to violate its faith or cease exercising its religion by closing its adoption ministry.”

“New York State has never changed its adoption laws to make it mandatory for adoption providers to place children with couples other than ‘an adult husband and his adult wife,’” the lawsuit asserts. “Instead, unelected bureaucrats in the New York Office of Children and Family Services have purported to do so through their adoption, interpretation, and enforcement of a new regulation.”

Erik Stanley, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries, said in a statement that adoption services exist only to help children not “to affirm the desires of adults.”

“There’s no reason for the state to single out and punish those who hold the belief that the best home for a child includes a father and a mother,” Stanley argued.  “Children in Syracuse, throughout the state, and across the country will suffer if this hostility toward faith-based adoption providers becomes the status quo.”

New Hope is asking the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York to protect the adoption agency from any government-imposed punishment because of its decision to uphold its decades-old placement policy.

“Every child deserves a forever home with loving parents,” ADF Legal Counsel Jeana Hallock said in a statement.

“For over 50 years, New Hope has served New York by offering a comprehensive, ‘arm-around-the-shoulder’ ministry and walking with adoptive couples and birth parents to place children with adoptive families. Protecting these nonprofits does nothing to interfere with other adoption providers who hold different convictions. But eliminating New Hope as a faith-based adoption provider means fewer kids find a forever home, fewer adoptive parents will ever welcome their new child, and fewer birth parents enjoy the exceptional support that New Hope has offered for decades. In short, everyone loses if the government forces New Hope to shut down.”

New Hope’s legal battle comes as adoption agencies in various parts of the country have faced similar ultimatums in the past decade.

Elsewhere in upstate New York, Catholic Charities of Buffalo halted its adoption and foster services in August over conflicts with state and local non-discrimination policies relating to LGBT couples. 

Earlier this year, Bethany Christian Services of Greater Delaware Valley altered its placement policies to allow for children to be placed in homes with same-sex parents after the city of Philadelphia stopped placing foster children with BCS and Catholic Social Services because of their gay adoption policies.

While BCS changed its policy to meet the demands of Philadelphia government leaders, Catholic Social Services filed a lawsuit against the city. But a federal judge in July ruled in favor of the city. CSS has appealed the judge’s ruling.

In the past several years, faith-based adoption and foster care providers in Massachusetts, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and California have had to halt their adoption services in the last decade-plus because of policies forbidding agencies from barring children from being placed with same-sex couples.

“To eliminate faith-based agencies from the field of service over ideology, to take away their licenses, which is happening in states, to prevent them from entering into contracts to provide these services for public entities ..., it is going to end up with seeing fewer resources for children in foster care and children will go unadopted," Chuck Johnson, president of the nonpartisan National Council for Adoption, warned in April.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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