Written by Don Byrd

A lawsuit challenging Michigan’s subsidy of religious adoption agencies that refuse to place children with same-sex couples can go forward after a federal judge rejected the defendant state officials’ motion to dismiss the case. While the plaintiffs have not yet proven their case, the court emphasized, they have presented sufficiently supported allegations to warrant allowing the case to continue.

Here is an excerpt from the opinion in which the judge explains why dismissal of the Establishment Clause claim would be inappropriate at this stage:

Plaintiffs plausibly allege and suggest that the State’s practice of contracting with and permitting faith-based child placing agencies to turn away same-sex couples has both the subjective purpose of discriminating against those who oppose the view of the faith-based agencies and objectively endorses the religious view of those agencies that same-sex marriage is wrong, sending a “‘message [to Plaintiffs] that they are outsiders, not full members of the community.’” While the State Defendants dispute these facts, we must assume for our present procedural purposes that these allegations are true and that in the face of such facts “an objective observer would conclude that [the State’s implementation of PA 53 through its contracts with child placing agencies] communicates a message of government endorsement of religion, generally, and of [opposition to same-sex marriage] in particular.” The State Defendants argue that PA 53 does not favor one religion over another, but the Establishment Clause prohibits the State from “prefer[ing] one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.” According to the allegations of Plaintiffs’ Complaint, the Defendants’ implementation of PA 53 favors the views of those opposing same-sex marriage by permitting faith-based child placing agencies to discriminate on the basis of their deeply held religious beliefs that reject same-sex marriage.

The child placing agencies are, in many ways, the gateway for a family seeking to adopt or foster a child into Michigan’s adoption and foster care system. The scope of their duties, and hence any “government exclusivity” of the functions they perform, must be the subject of further discovery. For purposes of analyzing Plaintiffs’ Establishment Clause claim, the Court must accept the allegations of the Complaint as true and such allegations surely “implicate” the Establishment Clause and plausibly suggest “excessive entanglement” such that the Court will allow Plaintiffs’ Establishment Clause claim to proceed further.

For more, see Detroit News’ coverage of the ruling.