New Hope Family Services is a faith-based adoption and foster care agency operating in Syracuse, New York. It believes and operates under the principle that children should be raised by a married mom and dad, and handles its placements with that in mind. If approached by either unmarried or same-sex couples concerning adoption or foster placements, New Hope refers them to other providers who are prepared to serve them. New Hope receives no government funding. It operates solely from donations.

The state of New York, however, says that New Hope’s policy violates the law by discriminating on the basis of “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or marital status.” New Hope recently challenged that law in federal district court and lost.

New Hope appealed that decision to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and oral arguments are scheduled for November 13. On November 4 the 2nd Circuit issued an order that prevents the state from enforcing its law against New Hope until such time as the court has an opportunity to rule on New Hope’s appeal.

That’s good news for New Hope, which will continue to serve the clients it already has. New Hope agreed not to accept any new clients until its appeal is decided.

The 2nd Circuit raised some interesting issues of its own that might indicate some sympathy to New Hope’s case.

First, the court asked the state to explain the source of its authority for issuing a “comply or close” order to New Hope, which does not receive any government funding. The court wants to know whether and how the state’s reach extends to such agencies. Sometimes assumptions are made by government agencies that result in unjustified interference in areas where they don’t belong.

Next, the court noted that recent cases around the country involving faith-based agencies have resulted in varying decisions based on the precise facts surrounding the religious freedom claims made in each case. The court explained that such a factual examination is necessary in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which requires a “neutral and respectful consideration” of an individual or organization’s claim that its religious liberty rights have been violated.

Putting faith-based agencies out of business is not helpful to the goal of finding good homes for children in need. Where referrals can be made that meet the state’s goals and allow faith-based agencies to operate according to their religious principles, no “discrimination” occurs. Hopefully the 2nd Circuit will see that.

The case is New Hope Family Services, Inc. v. Poole.