New Hope Family Services (New Hope) is a faith-based adoptive provider in the Syracuse, New York area serving families and children since 1965. The organization takes no government funding; everything it’s able to do is supported by donations. New Hope believes that children do best in homes with a married mom and dad, and does not place children with unmarried couples or same-sex couples. It refers them to other agencies. It has placed over 1,000 children into loving homes.
The state of New York regulates and licenses private child welfare agencies, and in 2018 informed New Hope that its policy of dealing only with married heterosexual couples was “discriminatory and impermissible.” New Hope was ordered to change its policy or shut down its adoption program.
New Hope, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed suit in federal court alleging that the regulatory agency threatening its existence was not acting in accordance with New York law, and violated its freedom of religion, speech and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. New Hope asked the court to block New York from carrying out the state’s threat to close its adoption program.
The court not only refused to block the New York regulatory agency’s threat against New Hope, but also granted New York’s request to dismiss the case entirely, ruling that there were no specific factual allegations by New Hope that state officials had acted with an anti-religious bias or intent.
That’s an odd ruling, since New Hope’s Complaint filed in court was clear in alleging that New York was acting with a clear anti-religious bias. It is usually left to pre-trial discovery with depositions and document discovery to locate the otherwise hidden factors behind the passage of a seemingly neutral and generally applicable rule. The fact that the judge apparently dismissed the case before any discovery could be done is unusual and raises questions about the fairness of the process.
ADF is looking into the prospects for an appeal of the court’s ruling. ADF Senior Counsel Roger Brooks, in a statement, said: “We will look at an appeal of the court’s decision so that New Hope can keep serving children and families. Children in Syracuse, throughout New York, and across the country will suffer if this kind of discrimination and hostility toward faith-based adoption providers becomes the status quo.”
On a side note, the proposed Equality Act being considered by Congress and approved in the House would enshrine a New York-type policy toward faith-based providers into federal law, essentially shutting down faith-based adoption providers in all 50 states. Many of those states currently protect the religious conscience of those providers.