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Faith-Based Adoption Providers Call Michigan ACLU Lawsuit 'Mean-Spirited, Divisive'

Jayne Rowse, left, and April DeBoer, right, pose with their adopted children in Hazel Park, Mich., on April 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Margot Cleveland, an attorney and adjunct professor at the University of Notre Dame, believes the ACLU wants to “rid the public sector of religious organizations unless they capitulate to the LGBT agenda,” and is using two gay couples to make that happen.

Kristy and Dana Dumont, one of the couples listed as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, have been together 11 years. They wanted to adopt, but two agencies — Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services — rejected their applications.

“It was kind of a slap in the face,” Dana told NPR. “They didn’t even know us. How could you say no to people who you don’t even know?”

The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit in late September, on behalf of the couples, against a Michigan law that allows adoption and foster agencies to disqualify same-sex couples from adopting children on religious grounds.

“Allowing state-contracted agencies to screen out prospective families based on religious criteria not only harms the children most in need, it is also unconstitutional,” said Leslie Cooper, senior ACLU staff attorney.

While six other states — Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia — have similar laws, Cleveland said the ACLU’s lawsuit against Michigan is the first to challenge the constitutionality of religious exemptions for faith-based foster and adoption agencies.

Michigan passed legislation in 2015 intended to stop state agencies from favoring adoption organizations that served LGBTQ families over agencies that served only heterosexual, two-parent families.

The law also required religious adoption agencies that favor traditional families to refer same-sex couples looking for children to similar services that deal with gay or transgender homes.

Under the law, “private child-placing agencies, including faith-based child-placing agencies, have the right to free exercise of religion under both the state and federal constitutions. Under well-settled principles of constitutional law, this right includes the freedom to abstain from conduct that conflicts with an agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“The state has made significant progress in finding more forever homes for Michigan kids in recent years and that wouldn’t be possible without the public-private partnerships that facilitate the adoption process,” Snyder said in a statement after signing the legislation a few weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its June 2015 ruling in favor of gay marriage.

David Maluchnik, spokesman for the Michigan Catholic Conference, told the Detroit News that 25 percent of the state’s adoption and foster service agencies are faith-based or religiously affiliated.

“We are focused on ensuring that as many children are adopted to as many loving families as possible regardless of their makeup,” Snyder added.

The Michigan ACLU immediately began looking for ways to challenge the law in court.

ACLU attorney Brooke Tucker told the Detroit Free Press the day that Snyder signed the legislation the American Civil Liberties Union case would make a constitutional argument.

“The Constitution doesn’t allow discrimination based on religion and you can’t do that with state funds,” she said. “We’re looking at our legal options and especially looking to hear from people who will be adversely affected by this.”

The Michigan Catholic Conference, in a statement issued after the ACLU filed suit in September, said the state’s 2015 adoption law “was necessary to promote diversity in child placement.”

“It is completely dishonest for out-of-state, litigious entities to allege a ‘ban’ on adoptions in Michigan,” the Catholic Conference statement also said. “This suit is mean-spirited, divisive and intolerant.”

The Catholic Conference also argued “faith-based agencies comprise a significant percentage of adoption and foster care placements in the state; their work has spanned decades and has placed thousands of vulnerable children in loving homes over many years.”

“The lawsuit isn’t considering the religious rights of those who work at these agencies. It could also jeopardize the work these faith-based child placement agencies do in Michigan,” the Detroit News editorialized.

“States that have demanded such compliance saw them drop out of the market altogether because of lost government funding,” the Detroit News editorial warned.

However, ACLU staff attorney Jay Kaplan said the lawsuit was all about the kids of Michigan because the state’s law reduced the chances of 13,000 children to get out of the state’s child welfare system and into families.

“The children are merely a shield behind which the ACLU and other activists seek to advance their true objective — destroying religious freedom in the public sphere when it conflicts with the LGBT agenda,” Margot Cleveland wrote in the National Review.

“It’s not about the children,” Cleveland added. “It’s never about the children.”