A recent legal victory for religious freedom in the case of a Philadelphia faith-based child-placement agency at the U.S. Supreme Court has now resulted in a $550,000 settlement of a similar lawsuit in favor of a Catholic child placement agency in Michigan.

There are more than 90 different child placement agencies in Michigan that serve the over 12,000 children currently in the state’s foster care system. St. Vincent Catholic Charities is one of the oldest in the state. Like other agencies, it operates through licenses and contracts with the state. What makes it distinctive is that it cares for needy children by providing foster care and adoption services in a manner consistent with Catholic teaching.

To St. Vincent, that means finding homes for children where there is a loving mother and father.

In 2015, the Michigan legislature passed a law protecting the right of faith-based agencies to work with the state. However, following a change in the state’s administration, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) teamed up with the State of Michigan to obtain a court ruling that would force any private child placement agencies licensed by and contracting with the state to place children with same-sex couples. The collusion worked, and the state and the ACLU got the decision they were seeking.

Then in March 2019 the Michigan Attorney General announced a new policy that would have ended the state’s partnership with faith-based agencies.

St. Vincent, along with a former foster child and a couple who fostered five special-needs children with St. Vincent’s help, sued the state over its new policy. A federal judge ordered the state to continue working with St. Vincent while the case continued, ruling that “the State’s real goal is not to promote non-discriminatory child placements, but to stamp out St. Vincent’s religious belief and replace it with the State’s own.”

The case was then delayed to allow time for the U.S. Supreme Court to render its anticipated decision in Fulton v. Philadelphia, a case with similar trademarks of government hostility to faith-based child placement agencies. After the high court issued a unanimous decision in favor of the placement agency in that case last June, the state of Michigan realized it had better settle its dispute with St. Vincent.

As part of the written settlement, St. Vincent will be allowed to continue to operate its agency without being forced to approve same-sex couples as parents. And St. Vincent agreed that if approached by any such couples, it will refer them to another agency in the state who will work with them. The state also agreed to pay St. Vincent’s $550,000 for attorney’s fees incurred in the litigation.

In an emailed statement to The Daily Citizen via legal counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Melissa Buck, one of St. Vincent’s foster parents and plaintiff in the lawsuit, said, “We are relieved and overjoyed to know that St. Vincent can finally get back to placing vulnerable children with families like ours without the threat of closure. My husband and I are the proud parents of five beautiful, special needs children all adopted through St. Vincent. We look forward to continuing to work with St. Vincent to serve kids.” 

St. Vincent’s Director of Communication, Ali Pirich Busque, added, “We are overjoyed that Michigan has recognized the important role religious adoption and foster care agencies like St. Vincent play in helping children find loving homes. We look forward to putting this lawsuit behind us and continuing to work with the State to serve vulnerable children, regardless of their race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.”

The case is Buck v. Gordon.

Photo from Becket Fund.