• Shadrach Strehle

Religious Adoption Case Could Leave Foster Kids Without Families

Despite Victory for Catholic Charity, the Michigan Foster System is Still at Risk

LANSING (Great Lakes News) - After a sizable victory, defeat by St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Buck v. Gordan could irrevocably damage the foster care adoption system in Michigan.


Foster families rejoiced after a federal judge rebuked Attorney General Dana Nessel’s attempt to shut down St. Vincent Catholic Charities, granting the faith-based adoption agency a temporary injunction. Without the injunction, the charity would be disallowed from operating as an adoption agency. The lawsuit stems from the adoption agencies policy towards same-sex couples. When a same-sex couple visits the agency, St. Vincet refers them to other organizations that are willing to adopt to them rather than break from the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding marriage.


U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker granted the injunction, which allows St. Vincent to operate while the case is being litigated, after concluding that Nessel’s office unfairly targeted the religion of the organization. Jonker argued that Nessel’s own prejudice against religious organizations, something she made especially apparent on the campaign trail, made the lawsuit explicitly discriminatory.


“The basis of the judges ruling is that the state did a 180 degree turn after the election,” said Nick Reeves, a legal council at Becket Law, the organization representing St. Vincent in the case. “This is not a case about whether same sex couples can be good parents, it’s about Dana Nessel exhibiting hatred. It’s putting politics over children. There’s no place for that kind of animus from government officials.”


The case is far from complete however, and the state has made it clear it will continue to pursue litigation through the appeal process. Jonker granted the injunction because he believed the case would rule in St. Vincent’s favor, but he still has yet to issue a final decision. In the meantime St. Vincent hopes to continue their adoption services.

“St. Vincent Catholic Charities is very pleased with the decision, said a spokesperson for St. Vincent. “It allows them to continue as they have been in the adoption process and allows them to unite families with children who may not have anywhere else to turn.”


St. Vincent is far from the only adoption center that works through the Foster Care system, but religious adoption agencies provide a quality of service that is difficult for others to mimic.


“St. Vincent serves older children and sibling groups at a much higher rate,” Reeves said. “They are able to go into churches and find potential foster parents that are willing to adopt these kids.”


Children in the foster care system that have difficulty finding homes through secular adoption agencies, but organizations like St. Vincent excel at finding these kids homes. 45 percent of children adopted with disabilities nationwide are adopted through Catholic charities and 36 percent of families who adopt through Christian organizations claim they would not have considered adoption otherwise.


“The processes probably when have been dispersed to other agencies,’ the spokesperson said. “But, Adoption is a difficult process. It can be lengthy, it can be exhausting and it can be emotionally draining for everybody on both sides. St. Vincent has been doing this for a long time, they have good reach into families looking to adopt and you develop those connections over time.”



Nessel responded to an article in Bridge Magazine about the decision.

If a court eventually rules against St. Vincent, then the unique resources provided by religious adoption agencies will cease to find homes for foster care children. The years of connections and unique outreach to religious families, who are more likely to adopt, will go to waste in a time where the number of willing foster parents and adoptive parents is decreasing.


“Our nation is facing a foster care crisis, and we are so glad that Michigan’s foster children will continue having all hands on deck to help them find loving forever homes,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket. “The Bucks and St. Vincent Catholic Charities won a victory in Michigan, but there is still work to be done to ensure that faith-based agencies can contribute to ending our nation’s foster care crisis.”


The ACLU, who wrote a brief in support of the state’s litigation against St. Vincent, argued that Jonker failed to separate Nessel’s statements as a private citizen from her time as attorney general. Jay Kaplan, a staff attorney at the ACLU, claimed that Jonker also ignored their arguments in their amicus brief.


Nessel only offered comment through the tweet pictured above.

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