Bills would allow faith-based agencies to refuse to process adoptions in Michigan

Sep 25, 2013

A state House committee has approved legislation that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to handle placements for religious reasons. Instead, under the legislation, an agency that has an objection would have to refer a qualified family to an adoption office that would handle the placement.

Almost all adoptions in Michigan are handled by private agencies that accept public funding. Faith-based adoption services are concerned future changes to adoption policies – such as allowing same-sex couples to adopt – could force them to violate their religious beliefs.

 "We just want to make sure that the civil liberties rights of faith-based agencies are protected and we believe that’s necessary moving forward,” says David Maluchnik of the Michigan Catholic Conference. “We’ve seen in other states that other faith-based agencies have been forced to close because they’ve been told to operate outside their religious mission and we want to make sure that vulnerable children here in Michigan are served by a diverse amount of organizations that work to help place children in homes.”

Maluchnik says the legislation would formalize what is already an accepted practice. It’s not clear that is the case. The Michigan Department of Human Services and, by extension, the Snyder administration oppose the bill in its current form.

The legislation as drafted could violate the Establishment Clause that requires separation of church and state, says Jay Kaplan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union-Michigan.

“It allows agencies that get state dollars, who are acting as agents of the state, to put forth religious beliefs to trump what’s the best interests of children, which should be the overriding concern in making decisions regarding adoption and foster care placement,” he says. “If faith-based organizations want to refuse to place children with families, they can do so, don’t take the state money, don’t take the state dollars.”

It’s not clear if or when the state House might vote on the bill. 

There is a federal court challenge pending to Michigan laws that ban gay marriage as well as same-sex couple adoptions. The next hearing in that case is scheduled for Oct. 16.