A federal judge on Monday prohibited New York from shutting down a faith-based adoption center pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging state regulations requiring agencies to accept as clients unmarried and same-sex couples.
U.S. District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino issued a preliminary injunction stopping the New York Office of Children and Family Services from revoking New Hope Family Services’ authorization to place children for adoption, citing evidence of “some hostility towards New Hope’s religious beliefs.”
The agency warned in 2018 that it would close New Hope, a Syracuse-based Christian ministry, for adoptions unless it changed its “discriminatory and impermissible” policy of only placing children with traditional married couples.
“New Hope has demonstrated likelihood of success as to its claim that section 421.3(d) compels it to speak contrary to its religious beliefs by requiring that New Hope say that placement with unmarried or same sex couples is in the best interests of the child,” said Judge D’Agostino, an Obama appointee. “At present, OCFS has presented New Hope with an ultimatum: make such a statement or close.”
The judge said that New Hope’s policy of referring unmarried and same-sex couples to state or secular adoption agencies, known as its recusal-and-referral policy, “is more narrowly tailored to the state’s interests while protecting New Hope’s Free Speech rights.”
A 2013 regulation issued by the OCFS barred “discrimination and harassment against applicants for adoption services” based on traits including sexual orientation and gender identity.
Roger G. Brooks, senior counsel for the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, called the ruling “great news for children waiting to be adopted and for the parents partnering with our client.”
“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,” said Mr. Brooks 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.”
The district court initially ruled in the state’s favor, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals placed a stay on the order in July, sending it back to the lower court.
Cases involving religious adoption and foster-care services have proliferated in recent years, with one such case, Fulton v. Philadelphia, scheduled for oral argument on Nov. 4 before the Supreme Court, according to Becket Law.
New Hope, which has placed more than 1,000 children during its 55-year history, argued that “we need more adoption providers, not fewer.”
“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,” said New Hope executive director Kathy Jerman.