Citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has agreed to pay a Catholic adoption agency $550,000 in attorney's fees after it tried to force the faith-based organization to place children in same-sex homes.
The controversy began in 2019, when the department – backed by the state attorney general – said it would end its contract with St. Vincent Catholic Charities because of the organization's Bible-based policy of preferring homes with a married father and mother. St. Vincent is one of the state's oldest adoption and foster agencies.
St. Vincent then sued the state. It won multiple rounds in court, although a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a separate case appears to have swayed the state. Last year, the high court ruled that the city of Philadelphia violated the First Amendment when it tried forcing a Catholic foster care agency to place children in same-sex homes. The decision was unanimous (9-0).
Under a settlement between St. Vincent and the state of Michigan, the agency will maintain its contract with the state, and the state will not force it to place children in LGBT homes. Further, the state will pay St. Vincent $550,000 in attorney's fees and costs. Becket Fund for Religious Liberty represented St. Vincent.
Catholic leaders in the state applauded the settlement.
"The teaching of the Catholic Church and, hence, the adoption policy of Saint Vincent is rooted in both faith and reason: That children, on the whole, do best in life when they grow up with a mom and dad who are married to each other," Rich Budd, director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Lansing, told Catholic News Agency.
"To have punished or proscribed that common-sense approach by law would have cruelly prevented Saint Vincent from being of service to couples who yearn for children and to vulnerable children who yearn for parents – hence we celebrate today's agreement."
Becket said no same-sex couple "has ever been unable to foster or adopt because of St. Vincent's religious beliefs" and that the agency "refers any couples it cannot serve to other agencies who can."
If the state's action had stood, Becket said, fewer children would have been adopted.
"There are over 13,000 foster children in Michigan alone," Becket said. "Each year, over 600 Michigan children' age out' of the foster system, meaning that at the age of 18 they are on their own, never having found a family to provide stability, love and support or a permanent place to call home. No one addresses this issue more effectively than faith-based agencies."
The department, in a news release, said the settlement "comes following a unanimous Supreme Court decision that limits MDHHS's ability to enforce its non-discrimination policy under certain circumstances."
"The Supreme Court decision is binding on Michigan," the news release said.
Supreme Court, in 9-0 Ruling, Says City Can't Force Catholic Foster Agency to Work with LGBT Couples
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.