Appeals Court Issues Emergency Order in Support of Faith-Based Adoption Agency

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit issued an emergency order Nov. 11 to temporarily block New York officials from trying to shut down a faith-based adoption agency that exclusively places children in homes with a married mother and father.

The order offers a brief reprieve, allowing the court to consider whether to reverse a lower federal court’s decision to dismiss the adoption agency’s lawsuit. The appeals court is hearing oral arguments today.

New Hope Family Services in Syracuse, New York, operates as a pregnancy resource center, temporary foster-placement agency and adoption agency. Since its founding in 1965, New Hope says it has placed over 1,000 children into adoptive homes in New York state. The non-profit accepts no government funding and, besides fees paid by adoptive parents, funds its ministry through support from churches, individual donors and private grants.

In September 2018, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) conducted a site visit at New Hope to review its procedures. The following month, OCFS sent New Hope a letter praising its “number of strengths in providing adoption services within the community. One of which is strong emphasis on assisting the birth parents in making an informed decision for their newborn, providing them time to make the decision, along with a supportive and detailed adoptive family selection process.”

But a few days later, OCFS changed course, singling out New Hope’s policy regarding child placements. OCFS described New Hope’s policy of only placing children with heterosexual married couples as “discriminatory and impermissible,” despite the fact that the center refers same-sex couples to other providers and has never received a formal complaint about the policy.

Still, OCFS offered New Hope an ultimatum—revise its policy or submit a close-out plan for its adoption program.

“Without violating its religious beliefs, New Hope is unable to comply with the OCFS ultimatum to recommend unmarried couples and same-sex couples as foster and adoptive parents,” Alliance Defending Freedom lawyers wrote in a complaint filed in district court.

In May, U.S. District Judge Mae D’Agostino dismissed the lawsuit, claiming that “while religious belief is always protected, religiously motivated conduct enjoys no special protections or exemptions from neutral, generally applied legal requirements.”

New Hope appealed the decision, leading to the issuing of the emergency order.

“Every child deserves a permanent home with loving parents,” said Roger Brooks, ADF senior counsel. “New Hope’s faith-based services do nothing to interfere with other adoption providers, but banishing it means fewer kids will find permanent homes, fewer adoptive parents will ever welcome their new child, and fewer birth parents will enjoy the exceptional support that New Hope has offered for decades. We hope the court will permanently uphold New Hope’s ability to serve children and families according to the very beliefs that motivate its valuable services.”

According to ADF, in September 2017, it was estimated that 19,213 children in New York were in foster care, with 4,400 waiting to be adopted.