Christian Adoption Agency in NY Receives Temporary Protection from Court

New Hope Family Services, based in Syracuse, New York, has placed more than 1,000 children for adoption in the last 50 years.

Hands come together holding a cutout forever family.
Hands come together holding a cutout forever family. (photo: Sewcream / Shutterstock)

SYRACUSE, Ny. — A district court this week issued a temporary injunction protecting a faith-based adoption provider from being shut down by the state of New York for its policy of only placing children with a married mother and father.

U.S. District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino granted the injunction Monday, saying the state had shown evidence of hostility toward the adoption agency’s religious beliefs.

The injunction will allow the adoption agency to continue operating while the case is decided in court.

New Hope Family Services, based in Syracuse, New York, has placed more than 1,000 children for adoption in the last 50 years.

In 2013, a new state regulation barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity against applicants for adoption services.

For five years after the regulation, New Hope practiced its “recusal-and-referral” policy of declining to match children with unmarried and same-sex couples while referring them to other agencies. The agency says it faced no objections to this policy, until the New York Office of Children and Family Services in 2018 ordered it to place children with unmarried and same-sex couples or be forced to close.

D’Agostino initially dismissed the lawsuit in May, saying New Hope had not shown any plausible constitutional claims. In July, however, the Second Circuit Appeals Court put a stay on the order and sent it back to the district court, instructing it to reconsider the merits of the motion for a preliminary injunction.

The appeals court said New Hope had made a “plausible claim” that its First Amendment religious and free speech rights were violated, and said the state’s actions may have been “informed by hostility toward certain religious beliefs.”

Roger Brooks, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, hailed the decision as “great news for children waiting to be adopted.”

“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 in a statement.

“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.”

Kathy Jerman, executive director of New Hope Family Services, also applauded the decision.

“Every child deserves a home with a loving mother and father who are committed to each other. Here at New Hope Family Services, we are an ‘arm-around-the-shoulder’ ministry that walks with adoptive families and birth parents alike to place children with adoptive families,” she said in a statement.

“We live in a diverse state, and we need more adoption providers, not fewer,” Jerman continued. “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.”

New York state rules have already forced the adoption and foster services of Catholic Charities of Buffalo to close because they did not allow the agency to place children only in homes with a married mother and father. The agency had been providing such services almost since it began more than 90 years ago.

“Because Catholic Charities cannot simultaneously comply with state regulations and conform to the teaching of the Catholic Church on the nature of marriage, Catholic Charities will discontinue foster care and adoption services,” the agency said in August 2018.

Other long-standing Catholic child placement agencies have also been forced to close due to new policies that consider their practices discriminatory. March 2006 marked the end of adoption services for Catholic Charities of Boston, and the end of adoption services of Catholic Charities affiliates in Illinois came in November 2011.

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.

Last November, the Trump Administration announced a change to federal rules to preserve federal funding of faith-based adoption agencies, regardless of their views on same-sex marriage. The Department of Health and Human Services said it would revise a 2016 rule that required federally-funded child welfare agencies to place children with same-sex couples.

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