The state of New York has agreed to pay nearly A$400,000 to a Christian adoption agency which it tried to shut down solely because of its religious beliefs.
The settlement ensures that privately operated New Hope Family Services can no longer be targeted for its faith-based policies by the New York Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS).
OCFS officials attempted to close the Syracuse-based facility for its policy of placing children solely with married, heterosexual couples, claiming it was discriminating against LGBT couples.
Both the US Court of Appeals and a federal district court have permanently prohibited the State of New York from enforcing state law “insofar as it would compel New Hope to process applications from, or place children for adoption with, same-sex couples or unmarried cohabitating couples, and insofar as it would prevent New Hope from referring such couples to other agencies.”
The courts ruled that New Hope had a First Amendment right to deny adoptions to same-sex or unmarried couples and that its religious practices were a form of free speech.
In addition, they noted that the state hadn’t found any couples who were harmed by New Hope’s policy or any evidence of complaints from referred couples or referred couples suffering increased wait times or costs.
The judges ruled that no potential adoptive parents had been denied the chance to adopt a child due to New Hope’s policy and any adults wishing to adopt whose relationships ran counter to New Hope’s beliefs were referred to other adoption agencies.
The payment will cover attorneys’ fees and court costs after four years of legal battles over the threatened closure by OCFS.
Christian legal advocacy group ADF International which represented the adoption agency in its case said the state’s attempt to close New Hope “violates its core rights protected by the First Amendment” and “needlessly reduced the number of agencies willing to help vulnerable children.”
Senior Counsel Roger Brooks said New Hope is a private religious ministry that doesn’t take a dime from the government. Further, New Hope’s faith-guided services don’t coerce anyone and do nothing to interfere with other adoption providers who have different beliefs about family and the best interests of children.”
New Hope Family Services Executive Director Kathy Jerman proclaimed that “every child deserves a home with a loving mother and father who are committed to each other.”
“It’s regrettable that New York ever threatened to shut down our adoption services, through which we have placed more than 1,000 children with adoptive families since we began in 1965.”
“We live in a diverse state, and we need more adoption providers, not fewer. We’re grateful this case has reached a favourable end that allows us to keep serving children and families.”
In 1986, the agency also became a pregnancy centre offering counseling and resources for women and men facing pregnancy decisions. It accepts no government funding and is financially supported by churches, individual donors, and private grants.
Last year a Christian adoption in Michigan won a similar legal battle while in 2021 the US Supreme Court upheld religious protections in adoption for Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia.