Saturday, September 15, 2018

Court Refuses To Dismiss Challenge To Michigan's Protection of Catholic Adoption Agencies

In an important decision, a Michigan federal district court in Dumont v. Lyon, (ED MI, Sept. 14, 2018), held that same-sex couples can move ahead with their Establishment Clause and equal protection claims against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for permitting child placing agencies that contract with the state and receive state funds to use religious criteria to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.  Laws enacted by the Michigan legislature in 2015 protect child-placing agencies from being required to provide adoption or foster care placements that conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs, or being penalized for doing so. (See prior posting.)

In a 93-page opinion, the court first concludes that plaintiffs have Article III (but not taxpayer) standing to bring their challenges. Then, denying defendants' motion to dismiss, the court says in part:
Plaintiffs plausibly allege ... that the State’s practice of contracting with and permitting faith-based child placing agencies to turn away same-sex couples has both the subjective purpose of discriminating against those who oppose the view of the faith-based agencies ... and objectively endorses the religious view of those agencies that same-sex marriage is wrong, sending a “‘message [to Plaintiffs] that they are outsiders, not full members of the community.’”....
The child placing agencies are, in many ways, the gateway for a family seeking to adopt or foster a child into Michigan’s adoption and foster care system. The scope of their duties, and hence any “government exclusivity” of the functions they perform, must be the subject of further discovery. For purposes of analyzing Plaintiffs’ Establishment Clause claim, the Court must accept the allegations of the Complaint as true and such allegations surely “implicate” the Establishment Clause and plausibly suggest “excessive entanglement” such that the Court will allow Plaintiffs’ Establishment Clause claim to proceed further....
Plaintiffs are entitled to an opportunity to conduct discovery to support their claim that the State’s practice of continuing to contract with faith-based agencies that invoke PA53’s religious belief protection to turn away same-sex couples lacks a rational basis and to further develop their Equal Protection claim.
ACLU issued a press release announcing the decision.