Faith-based organizations that provide services in the public square according to their religious mission could soon face lawsuits should a new interpretation of the state's civil rights law be upheld by the courts, according to a legal brief filed on behalf of Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) with the Michigan Supreme Court recently.
At risk is a wide range of humanitarian and charitable aid provided by Catholic and other religious agencies that assist the needy, the poor, and persons and families lacking basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter.
MCC was granted permission to weigh in on the pending case regarding the state's civil rights law. The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act - which MCC supported in its approval by the Legislature and Governor back in 1976 -- prohibits discrimination based on sex, race and other factors.
Recently, Michigan's civil rights commission issued its own interpretation of the law, ruling that the term sex discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity. The Legislature has not amended the law to say that.
The case before the Supreme Court started when a civil rights complaint was filed against wedding venue Rouch World after the business declined to host a same-sex ceremony on its property due to their religious beliefs. Based on the Civil Rights department's new interpretation of sex discrimination, it ordered Rouch World to cooperate in an investigation against it.
Rouch World filed suit to challenge the Civil Rights department's authority to do so. A lower court agreed with the Civil Rights department's interpretation and found that "sex" includes discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the Supreme Court is now reviewing that decision on appeal.
MCC argues the interpretation would have consequences for religious practice, particularly those of Catholic churches, schools and charities. The interpretation could prevent Catholic institutions from providing services in accordance with their religious beliefs or choosing to hire individuals who act and live out the teachings of the Church. The Church teaches that marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman and that men and women are created by God with distinct biological differences.
"Religious institutions must be free to decide whom to hire, retain, discipline, promote, or discharge consistent with their religious missions," the MCC brief to the Supreme Court stated.
In addition to that, Catholic schools must be free to hire teachers who serve as models for living out the faith, and those working for Catholic charities must be allowed to carry out their charitable work in accordance with their religious principles, the brief argues.
The Michigan Supreme Court has not scheduled a hearing yet on the case. For more on the MCC's position in Rouch World LLC v Department of Civil Rights, read the full amicus brief here.