The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court decision dismissing a New Jersey couple’s lawsuit against the state after it removed their foster child and suspended their license to foster parent. The decision relies on recent U.S. Supreme Court cases favoring religious freedom and paves the way for Christians in the Garden State to push back against government hostility toward biblical values.
Licensed foster parents Michael and Jennifer Lasche could only watch helplessly in 2018 as their foster daughter – whom they wanted to adopt – was removed from their home by government officials. Employees of the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) decided the Lasches’ religious beliefs about the sinfulness of homosexual conduct and same-sex “marriage” justified the child’s removal.
But then the state went even further in making its point by suspending the Lasches’ license to foster any child. When the couple sued the state for violating their constitutional rights, a federal district court dismissed the lawsuit.
However, the 3rd Circuit reinstated the lawsuit and sent it back down to the lower court for further proceedings.
“The District Court dismissed the Lasches’ [constitutional rights violation] claim against the individual capacity defendants for First Amendment retaliation on two grounds,” Judge Peter Phipps wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel. “First, it concluded that, as a matter of law, foster parents sharing religious views with their foster children was not constitutionally protected conduct. Second, it determined that the complaint did not contain plausible allegations of a causal link between the Lasches’ religious beliefs and the alleged retaliatory actions.
“The [government] defendants defend that ruling on both grounds, and they also raise a qualified-immunity defense. Because the District Court erred in both of its conclusions, we will partially vacate its orders, leaving initial consideration of the qualified-immunity defense for the District Court on remand.”
The judge noted that the state’s hostility toward the Lasches’ religious beliefs became evident at a meeting in June 2018 involving several DCPP employees and the couple.
“The central topic of the meeting was the Lasches’ religious beliefs about the sinfulness of homosexual conduct. The DCPP employees expressed concern about the Lasches’ belief that homosexual conduct was a sin, and they agreed that the Lasches’ religious beliefs were a problem,” the judge wrote.
“They also sought assurance from the Lasches that they would not reject Foster Child 1 if she ever decided to explore her sexuality. One DCPP representative remarked that Foster Child 1 would need therapy to deal with her belief that homosexual conduct is a sin.”
A few days after that meeting, DCPP removed the child from their home. Three months later, the Lasches discovered that DCPP had suspended their license to foster parent.
In light of those facts, Judge Phipps said, the Lasches’ allegations that their civil rights were violated because of the state government’s religious hostility and retaliation based on their biblical views should not have been dismissed by the lower court.
In explaining his reasoning, Judge Phipps cited two recent Supreme Court cases supportive of religious freedom: Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Fulton v. Philadelphia. As in the Lasches’ lawsuit, both of those cases involved government hostility toward Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality.
The case is Lasche v. New Jersey.
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