A proposed settlement announced this week for a lawsuit filed on behalf of a Catholic services provider would allow faith-based adoption and foster care providers to continue operating according to their religious mission.
The settlement agreement between Lansing-based St. Vincent Catholic Charities and the state of Michigan protects conscience rights in child placement and helps ensure religious foster care and adoption agencies will continue to serve Michigan children and families of varying religious, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds.
Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) began to advocate for legislation in 2011 to codify into state law decades of effective collaboration between the state of Michigan and religious providers to move children from the state's foster care system into permanent homes with families. That bill was passed on a bipartisan basis and signed into law in 2015.
Faith-based placement agencies such as Catholic Charities operate according to their religious teaching and are staffed by individuals who carry their faith into their daily lives to care for the vulnerable and to serve others.
But this "freedom to serve" regrettably has been targeted in recent years as some organizations and elected officials have sought to litigate religious agencies out of the public square. That included a high-profile 'sue and settle' strategy that sought to find the 2015 law unconstitutional, brought against St. Vincent by a same-sex couple seeking adoption.
It initially resulted in a settlement that allowed the state to deny St. Vincent a contract for child placement services because of the agency's religious beliefs. A family who adopted five special needs children through St. Vincent, along with the agency itself, sued the state in 2019 as a result of the discriminatory policy against religious providers.
The settlement filed in federal court to resolve the case "provides affirmation that society, families and children are well served by dedicated and highly competent religious organizations and individuals that provide services to the general public, especially vulnerable persons and those who are suffering," MCC said in a statement.
"We believe this agreement advances the common good, benefits Michigan's vulnerable children, and upholds the constitutional right to religious liberty that is a cornerstone of our state and nation," the statement read.
According to the terms of the settlement agreement, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services cannot take action against St. Vincent's state license "or terminate or not renew the contracts because St. Vincent does not:
certify or approve a same-sex or unmarried couple as a foster parent or adoptive parent, or
conduct a home evaluation for a same-sex or unmarried couple, or
place a foster child with a same-sex or unmarried couple for foster care or adoption."
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in her State of the State speech this week urged an increase to the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a policy MCC has supported since 2003 and for which the organization is offering its support this legislative session.
During her speech, Gov. Whitmer encouraged the legislature to raise the state credit from 6% to 20% of the federal credit while Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) has previously introduced legislation that phases in an increase to 30% of the federal credit. MCC testified in support of the bill and has written in support of the proposal.
"While encouraging the human dignity that comes with work, the EITC is a pro-family, pro-children policy that provides a level of stability and assistance to help families get by and cover necessary expenses or emergencies," said Paul A. Long, MCC President and CEO this week, adding that "we are calling on Democrats and Republicans in the legislature and the governor's office to collaborate on behalf of the working men and women in the state and their families who earn low-wages and struggle to make ends meet."
MCC is a long-time supporter of the tax credit and advocated for its creation in 2006, worked to preserve its existence at 6% of the federal credit in 2011 when the state tax code was rewritten, and is now urging the use of state resources to increase the credit to assist working families in Michigan.
This past week (Jan. 23-29) was National School Choice Week, held to promote all children having meaningful choices for their education.
In Michigan, National School Choice Week was celebrated in Lansing Thursday with a rally at the Michigan Capitol.
Among the speakers was West Catholic High School senior Henry Ripple, who is captain of the varsity soccer team and also part of the varsity football team, in addition to serving as president of his student house.
Also making an appearance were members of the state championship football team from Lansing Catholic High School, including Head Coach Jim Baker and Team Captains Joey Baker, Bo Poljan, Alex Watters, and Mason Knippen.