St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing, Michigan provides a variety of social service to its neighbors via contracts with state and local governmental agencies. St. Vincent is currently asserting its First Amendment freedom rights in the federal courts to prevent the state government of Michigan from revoking access to adoption and foster care contracts simply because the charity, acting on its religious beliefs, wants to place children only with married moms and dads. A federal judge recently blocked the state from doing that while the charity’s lawsuit, titled Buck v. Bell, proceeds to trial.
But the charity’s stance on marriage apparently didn’t sit well with the local Ingham County Board of Commissioners which has entered into several contracts with St. Vincent over the last couple decades to provide relocation help for refugees. At a recent public meeting, the Board denied one contract renewal, and instructed its staff to find another charity to work with after another St. Vincent contract ends next year.
Why? According to a lawsuit filed by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty against Ingham County, the Board allegedly took such actions because of St. Vincent’s perceived “discriminatory” stand against same-sex marriage:
“The Board stated on the record at a public meeting that it wants to stop working with St. Vincent solely because it disagrees with St. Vincent’s speech, religious exercise, and audacity to defend those rights in court. After making those statements, the Board then proceeded to single out St. Vincent by denying it a grant that the Board awarded to every other requesting agency. It is also pressuring the Ingham County Health Department (the “Health Department”) to find an alternative provider of refugee services so it can stop partnering with St. Vincent altogether.”
The First Amendment prohibits the government from discriminating against the free exercise of religion and speech it doesn’t like. The County here has apparently forgotten this basic tenet of constitutional law. This is again from Becket Fund’s webpage concerning the case:
“The Ingham County Board of Commissioners’ actions are clear First Amendment violations. The First Amendment prohibits religious discrimination and also prohibits government officials from retaliating against those who have the courage to defend their First Amendment rights in court. Board members have even called St. Vincent ‘morally bankrupt’ and made false allegations about the agency at public meetings. The government cannot target and discriminate against an organization based solely on its sincere religious beliefs. Nor can it punish a religious person or group for having the courage to defend itself in court. Here, the Board has admitted that St. Vincent’s refugee services are excellent, and the only reason it wants to exclude St. Vincent is because it disagrees with St. Vincent’s sincere religious beliefs that are at issue in a separate lawsuit. St. Vincent’s refugee services are too important to be sacrificed for the sake of scoring political points.
The lawsuit was filed two weeks ago. We’ll update you as it proceeds.
The case is titled St. Vincent Catholic Charities v. Ingham County Board of Commissioners.