Victory for Christian Adoption Agency

Oct 15, 2020

ALBANY, NY – A federal court judge ruled that a New York-based Christian adoption agency cannot be forced to close due to its policy of only placing children with married heterosexual couples. 

U.S. District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino issued the preliminary injunction against the New York Office of Children and Family Services’ enforcement of its discriminatory policy. The judge stated that the state’s behavior “demonstrates some animosity towards particular religious beliefs” against the adoption agency, New Hope Family Services. 

Since 1965, New Hope Family Services has placed children in homes with a married mother and father. As a Christian non-profit that receives no public funding, New Hope does not place children for adoption with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples. Instead, they refer them to one of the other approximately 130 adoption providers in New York—the vast majority of which will place children with any individual who qualifies. Currently, there are more than 25,000 children in the foster care system in New York alone. 

“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,” D’Agostino wrote.

D’Agostino’s decision came after a July ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, sending the case back to the district court. The three-judge panel issued a decision that allows the faith-based adoption agency to sue 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. The Court of Appeals found that the state was attempting to force a religious group to submit to “the state’s orthodoxy” on matters of sexuality in order to stay in business, which was an impermissible objective. 

New Hope Family Services filed a lawsuit against state officials in 2018, when they claimed the organization’s faith-based policy violated a 2013 state law prohibiting discrimination against adoption applicants based on sexual orientation or marital status. The Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s dismissal of New Hope’s lawsuit against New York officials seeking to shut down the provider simply for its religious beliefs about marriage. 

In the fall of 2018, the New York Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) wrote a favorable review of New Hope in a letter that stated the organization “had a number of strengths in providing adoption services.” But then the agency issued an ultimatum to New Hope that it must violate its religious beliefs or close its adoption services for its policy prioritizing the placement of children it serves in homes with a married mother and father. 

New Hope filed a complaint against OCFS in federal district court in December 2018, and the court dismissed the case in May 2019. 

On November 4, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, regarding a Catholic foster care agency that will not compromise its religious beliefs by placing children with same-sex couples. Several foster parents licensed through Catholic Social Services are plaintiffs, including the late Cecilia Paul, who fostered more than 100 children, and Sharonell Fulton, the lead plaintiff, a single mother who has fostered more than 40 children in 26 years. 

In March 2018, the city canceled its contracts with Catholic Social Services dues to its religious beliefs about marriage, not long after the city issued an urgent call for 300 families to provide foster care to help care for the flood of children coming into the system due to the opioid crisis. The city then prohibited Catholic Social Services from placing any more children with the families it had already certified, in order to investigate whether the agency had violated the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, a policy that prohibits “discrimination” on the basis of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.” 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “This is a great decision in favor of religious freedom and protecting the well-being of precious children. New Hope Family Services has faithfully placed children in loving homes with a married mother and father for more than 50 years. Faith-based adoption organizations should not have to choose between their religious beliefs and their mission to help children and families. We must end this discrimination with a favorable ruling at the High Court.” 

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