Prayer Bible Study Workplace. Photo: ADF

USA religious orgs ask 6th Circuit to protect their right to operate consistent with their faith

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys represent Christian Healthcare Centers, Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in two lawsuits challenging state law burdening their religious exercise.

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(ZENIT News / Cincinnati, 08.23.2023).- Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed notices of appeal this week to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in two separate legal challenges to Michigan laws that unconstitutionally require religious organizations to hire employees who don’t share their beliefs and prevents them from serving their communities consistent with their beliefs. The two appeals were filed on behalf of Christian Healthcare Centers, a Michigan faith-based medical nonprofit, and, in a separate case, on behalf of a Catholic school run by Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, a Grand Rapids-based parish, and several of the school’s families.

Both Christian Healthcare Centers and Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, in their respective lawsuits, are challenging Michigan’s civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The laws are at the center of both lawsuits: Christian Healthcare Centers v. Nessel and Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish v. Nessel.

“Michigan officials should respect religious organizations’ constitutionally protected freedom to follow the very faith that has motivated them to serve their communities,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “Christian Healthcare Centers, for example, should be free to continue its vibrant outreach to the communities it serves through its low-cost, high-quality medical care. And Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish has faithfully served Grand Rapids families for more than a century, and its school provides a rich academic and spiritual environment for hundreds of children. We hope the 6th Circuit will respect their freedoms protected by the First Amendment so that they can continue to serve their communities without being illegitimately subjected to a state law that could undermine their faith and mission.”

Christian Healthcare Centers is a nonprofit medical provider that offers high-quality healthcare to all of its members—including several members who identify as LGBT—while substantially reducing prices for patients with lower incomes who cannot afford quality care elsewhere. It was founded to offer a distinctly Christian alternative to traditional primary care, focusing on meeting patients’ medical, emotional, and spiritual needs. To that end, the ministry hires staff who share its religious mission and provide medical care consistent with its religious beliefs.

But Michigan’s laws require Christian Healthcare Centers to hire people who do not share their faith and to provide cross-sex hormones contrary to its religious beliefs and medical judgment and address people with pronouns that that are inconsistent with their biological sex. All of this violates the ministry’s religious beliefs and undermines its ability to provide safe and affordable healthcare to the needy and the rest of the community.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish was founded more than a century ago by Polish immigrants. The parish-run academy exists to support parents in forming their children in the Catholic faith by providing a classical Catholic education and serves nearly 400 children from pre-K through 12th grade. The parents who joined the lawsuit all have children attending Sacred Heart Academy.

For the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and its school, Sacred Heart Academy, Michigan’s laws require them to hire faculty and staff who lead lives and hold beliefs contrary to the Catholic faith, speak messages about marriage and sexuality that violate Church doctrine, and refrain from articulating Catholic beliefs in teaching its students and when advertising the school to prospective students or job applicants. Additionally, by preventing Sacred Heart from operating its school consistent with its beliefs, state officials are violating the rights of parents—including the three families who have joined the lawsuit—who specifically chose to send their children to Sacred Heart Academy because the school aligns with their values and religious beliefs.

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