NY will pay $250K after trying to shut down Christian adoption agency over policy on same-sex couples

Reuters/Victor Ruiz Garcia
Reuters/Victor Ruiz Garcia

A New York government entity has agreed to pay a Christian adoption agency $250,000 in legal fees to settle a lawsuit filed after the state told the charity that refusing to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried heterosexual couples violated state law. 

In addition to paying legal fees, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services will also allow New Hope Family Services to continue its religiously-influenced policies.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal nonprofit that helped represent New Hope, announced the settlement on Tuesday. New Hope is still dealing with separate litigation with the New York Division of Human Rights.

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"New Hope is a private religious ministry that doesn't take a dime from the government. Further, New Hope's faith-guided services don't coerce anyone and do nothing to interfere with other adoption providers who have different beliefs about family and the best interests of children," said ADF Senior Counsel Roger Brooks.

"On behalf of the children waiting to be adopted and the prospective parents partnering with New Hope to provide loving and stable homes, we're pleased to favorably settle this case and ensure the organization can continue its vital service to the Syracuse community."

In 2018, OCFS concluded that New Hope was violating a 2013 state law that barred discrimination against adoption service applicants based on sexual orientation and marital status.

Although a district court initially ruled against New Hope, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals revived the lawsuit in July 2020, sending the case back to the lower court.

In October 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Mae D'Agostino granted New Hope a preliminary injunction against the state law, believing that OCFS' interpretation "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, an Obama appointee.

Last September, D'Agostino issued an order permanently stopping the state from compelling "New Hope to process applications from, or place children for adoption with, same-sex couples or unmarried cohabitating couples, and insofar as it would prevent New Hope from referring such couples to other agencies."

D'Agostino's September 2022 ruling came over a year after the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Philadelphia violated the law by excluding a Catholic charity from its foster program because the organization refused to place children with same-sex couples. 

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, stating that "the City has burdened the religious exercise of [Catholic Social Services] through policies that do not meet the requirement of being neutral and generally applicable."

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