Federal Judge: New York Can’t Shut Down Adoption Agency Because of Religious Beliefs

Federal Judge: New York Can’t Shut Down Adoption Agency Because of Religious Beliefs

A federal court ruled Oct. 5 that the state of New York cannot force a Christian adoption agency to close because of its policy of only placing children with heterosexual married couples.

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 nonprofit 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.

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

New Hope refused and filed suit against OCFS, arguing that state officials were discriminating against the adoption agency based on religious beliefs.

U.S. District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino found New Hope’s argument to be valid, stating in the Oct. 5 preliminary injunction that OCFS’ actions did in fact “[demonstrate] some animosity towards particular religious beliefs.”

In a statement released following the ruling, Roger Brooks of Alliance Defending Freedom, the law firm representing New Hope, said the ruling shows the state’s actions violated core rights protected by the First Amendment.

“Government officials have no business forcing faith-based providers to choose between speaking messages about marriage that contradict their religious convictions and closing their doors,” he said. “The need for adoption services in New York, whether public or private, is huge, and New Hope’s faith-guided services do not coerce anyone and do nothing to interfere with other adoption providers who have different beliefs about family and the best interests of children. Today’s ruling signals that the state’s attempt to shutter New Hope violated core rights protected by the First Amendment—the freedom to speak what you believe and the freedom to practice the teachings of your faith. Thankfully, this ruling means that New Hope can continue offering the exceptional support it has provided for decades while its lawsuit challenging the state’s unconstitutional policy continues.”

Kathy Jerman, executive director of New Hope, celebrated the ruling.

“We live in a diverse state, and we need more adoption providers, not fewer. We’re grateful that today’s decision allows us to keep serving children and families, even though our legal fight continues to end the state’s harassment once and for all.”

Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia, which in 2018 stopped receiving children for placement by the city due to a similar faith-based policy.

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