The War on Michigan's Christian Adoption Agencies Enters a New Phase
As discussed here last July, Michigan's Christian adoption agencies have been deliberately targeted by the ACLU in a federal lawsuit accusing them of discrimination for declining to place children with same-sex couples on religious grounds. In 2015, state lawmakers foreseeing this sort of thing passed Public Act 53, prohibiting state and local agencies from forcing faith-based agencies to provide services "that conflict with the child placing agency's sincerely held religious beliefs." Regardless, the lawsuit, Dumont v. Lyon, seeks a declaration that the state's practice of contracting with these agencies violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and demands an order prohibiting Michigan from entering into contracts with religious agencies that don't believe in placing kids with same-sex couples. For Christian agencies, the choice will be either to "give up their beliefs or close their doors." As described in a friend of the court brief submitted in Dumont by the Alliance Defending Freedom, rather than violate their beliefs about marriage, Christian adoption agencies had to shut down in Boston; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; and Illinois.
It looks as if Michigan is next.
Because the two named defendants in the case are the directors of state agencies, it falls to the Michigan Attorney General's Office to defend the case and the statute. But Michigan's newly elected attorney general, Dana Nessel, has no intention of defending the statute, the only purpose of which, she stated incorrectly during her campaign, "is to discriminate against people." A.G. Nessel lost no time obtaining a stay of the case from the court so she can conduct settlement negotiations with the plaintiffs on behalf of "[o]ur client agency." Seeing as she and the plaintiffs share the same point of view, the negotiations should go smoothly.
Nessel was lead attorney in one of the lawsuits to redefine marriage, DeBoer v. Snyder, that led up to the Supreme Court's nationally imposing a new definition of marriage including same-sex couples in the Obergefell decision. She is also, as the media never tire of repeating, openly gay. Not that being a lesbian disqualifies her from being attorney general of Michigan, which is why I didn't bring it up in the opening paragraph. I have no doubt there are qualified lesbian attorneys who understand that religious liberty is a right guaranteed under both the federal and state constitutions. (Michigan's constitution guarantees that "[t]he civil and political rights, privileges and capacities of no person shall be diminished or enlarged on account of his religious belief.") I just don't believe that Nessel is one of them.
She's also withdrawn the state from eight other lawsuits in which her predecessor A.G. joined several other states in filing amicus briefs – in lawsuits dealing with abortion, LGBT rights, and religious freedom. In a statement explaining her move, Nessel says she won't use her office "to undermine some of the most important values in our state, including those involving reproductive rights and the separation of church and state." By withdrawing from these suits, she furthers Michigan's "most important values" by refusing to help defend a Kentucky law "requiring a doctor to perform an ultrasound before an abortion" and dropping support for "an Ohio law that criminalized abortions performed because of a fetal indication of Down syndrome." Because liberals define "separation of church and state" to mean "protecting the public square from every vestige of Judeo-Christian beliefs," Nessel's reversals put Michigan's citizens on the same side as those demanding the removal of "a Latin cross" from "the Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, seal and flag," and the bigots trying to force the U.S House chaplain to permit an atheist to deliver an invocation on the floor of the House.
Nessel's devoted fan, Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson, assured readers before the election that "Dana Nessel is not a bigot." What he meant is that she isn't anti-male, in spite of her campaign ad touting that she doesn't have a penis. But Dickerson's concept of bigotry may be limited to animus based on the approved categories of race and gender identity. It may never occur to him there's such a thing as religious bigotry, except against Muslims.
Nessel's use of her office to hack down the religious freedom of Christian adoption agencies – when she and the ACLU know perfectly well that it will drastically reduce adoption opportunities for the children they pretend to care about – reveals a burning intolerance that sure looks a lot like bigotry. It's the kind of bigotry that won't rest until the Little Sisters of the Poor are forced to pay for contraceptives, or that sees a MAGA hat and wants a high school burned down with its students inside. It's the kind of bigotry that's more and more welcome all the time in today's Democratic Party.
T.R. Clancy looks at the world from Dearborn, Michigan. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.