• US Courts Affirm: Progressive Anti-Christian Bigotry Can Carry a Steep Legal Cost in the Nation

    Surge Summary: The U.S. District Court of Western Michigan has decided the State has violated the religious liberty rights of a Catholic adoption agency in requiring them to facilitate adoption to same-sex couples. It’s a positive development for First Amendment rights and religious freedom.

    National Review’s David French hearteningly announces:

    “Masterpiece Cakeshop continues to pay religious-liberty dividends.”

    Here, the particulars:

    Last summer, in the days after the Supreme Court decided Masterpiece Cakeshop on the narrow grounds that Colorado had violated Jack Phillips’s religious-liberty rights by specifically disparaging his religious beliefs, a bit of a skirmish broke out among conservative lawyers. How important was the ruling? Did it have any lasting precedential effect?

    For those who don’t recall, the Supreme Court ruled for Phillips in large part because a commissioner of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission called Phillips’s claim that he enjoyed a religious-freedom right not to be forced to design a custom cake for a gay wedding a “despicable piece of rhetoric.” The commissioner also denigrated religious-liberty arguments as being used to justify slavery and the Holocaust.

    While all agreed that it would have been preferable had the court simply ruled that creative professionals could not be required to produce art that conflicted with their sincerely held beliefs, the question was whether Justice Anthony Kennedy’s strong condemnation of anti-religious bigotry would resonate beyond the specific facts of the case. For example, what would happen if, in a different case, state officials called faithful Christians who seek to protect the religious freedom of Catholic adoption agencies “hate-mongers”?

    Happily, in a Western Michigan’s United States District Court, we discover such insufferable rhetoric has cost the state another crucial court ruling, granting a Catholic adoption agency a significant victory in the process, and reminding us all that, yes, anti-religious bigotry can (and should) carry substantial legal costs.

    The case being referred to is Buck v. Gordon. Becket is representing St. Vincent Catholic Charities, a former foster child, and the adoptive parents of five special-needs kids. (Boy, real villains, these two). French’s short version of the complicated situation is:

    St. Vincent upholds Catholic teaching by referring same-sex and unmarried families who seek foster and adoption recommendations and endorsements to agencies that have no objection to providing those services. There is no evidence that St. Vincent has prevented any legally qualified family from adopting or fostering a child. In fact, same-sex couples “certified through different agencies” have been able to adopt children in St. Vincent’s care.

    In 2015 the state of Michigan passed a statute specifically designed to protect the religious liberty of private, religious adoption agencies. In 2018, however, Dana Nessel, a Democratic attorney general, took office. During her campaign, she declared that she would not defend the 2015 law in court, stating that its “only purpose” was “discriminatory animus.” She also described proponents of the law as “hate-mongers,” and the court noted that she believed proponents of the law “disliked gay people more than they cared about the constitution.”

    Michigan’s Democrat attorney general “would not defend the 2015 law in court”? What happened to the “rule of law” and “executive branch” obligation to uphold a government’s duly enacted statutes even if it doesn’t agree with them? This is the Left’s sanctimonious tutorial every time the situation involves a conservative, Republican, pro-life governor or president who squirms at enforcing so-called “pro-choice” policies. Suddenly, it doesn’t apply because an LGBTQ issue is under consideration?

    Then, in 2019, the attorney general reached a legal settlement in pending litigation with the ACLU that essentially gutted the Michigan law, implementing a definitive requirement that religious agencies provide recommendations and endorsement to same-sex couples and banning referrals. The plaintiffs sued, seeking to enjoin the relevant terms of the settlement, and yesterday Judge Robert Jonker (a Bush appointee) granted their motion for a preliminary injunction.

    Jonker’s reasoning was simple – and particularly damning. The evidence was abundant from the record that the state of Michigan reversed its policy protecting religious freedom because it was hostile to the plaintiffs’ faith. By definition, since Michigan’s targeted St. Vincent’s faith, its 2019 settlement agreement couldn’t be genuinely regarded as a “neutral” law of “general applicability”. That determination would have granted the Great Lake State a high degree of deference in enforcement – but they fell short.

    Instead, pens French,

    the state’s targeting led to strict scrutiny. Here’s Judge Jonker:

    [“]Defendant Nessel made St. Vincent’s belief and practice a campaign issue by calling it hate. She made the 2015 statute a campaign issue by contending that the only purpose of the statute is discriminatory animus. After Defendant Nessel took office, the State pivoted 180 degrees. . . . The State also threatened to terminate its contracts with St. Vincent. The Summary Statement’s conclusion – that if an agency accepts even one MDHHS child referral for case management or adoption services, the agency forfeits completely the right to refer new parental applicants to other agencies based on its sincerely held religious beliefs – is at odds with the language of the contracts, with the 2015 law, and with established State practice. Moreover, it actually undermines the State’s stated goals of preventing discriminatory conduct and maximizing available placements for children.[“]

    Focus on that last point:  There was no evidence that St. Vincent stood in the way of any qualified couple who wanted to adopt. By potentially forcing St. Vincent’s to choose between upholding its faith tenets or maintaining its contractual relationship with Michigan, the state could end up shrinking the available foster or adoption options. Alarmingly, Mid-western, salt-of-the-earth Michigan demonstrated that it was more interested in punishing people of faith than it was in preserving expansive foster and adoption options for its most vulnerable citizens.

    What was the state’s motivation? Virtue signaling? Sending a pro-LGBTQ message? Anti-Christina antagonism? Making followers of Jesus suffer for their medieval virtues?

    The judge rightly called the state’s actions a “targeted attack on a sincerely held religious belief,” [writes French]. Once again, Masterpiece Cakeshop pays religious-liberty dividends. Once again, a court declares — in no uncertain terms — that in the conflict between private faith and public bigotry, religious liberty will prevail.

    In Buck v. Gordon are we spotting more evidence of a low-key trend here in U.S. Courts in favor of freedom of religious practice? Seems like it could be. By all means, a little victory dance for lovers of God (and cherishers of the First Amendment) is definitely warranted.

    Then, it’s back to head on a swivel, eyes wide open, resumption of liberty patrol. The “Rainbow Mafia”, the God-haters and their abettors will assuredly not let this recent advance for decency and Constitutionalism stand unchallenged.

    H/T: National Review/David French

    Image: adapted from thetravelnook from Pixabay

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