Faith-based adoption provider New Hope Family Services has won a second legal victory against New York State after officials with another state agency attempted to punish the adoption agency for adhering to its religious convictions. The latest religious freedom win comes after a federal court already ruled in New Hope’s favor in an earlier case.
The New York Division of Human Rights threatened to investigate and penalize the Christian nonprofit because it places infants with couples consisting of a mother and father committed to each other in marriage. In New Hope Family Services v. James, the adoption agency asked a federal court to allow it to continue its critical work of placing infants with disabilities or other “hard to place” factors in permanent homes without government harassment because of its religious beliefs.
The state agency served threatening information demands on New Hope even though, in a separate lawsuit between New Hope and another New York state agency, federal courts found that the state likely violated New Hope’s First Amendment rights by attempting to force it to violate its religious beliefs.
As CBN News reported in March, in that case, state officials agreed to pay $250,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs and ensure that New York’s Office of Children and Family Services would no longer target New Hope for its religious policies. The adoption agency was represented by attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
“The state of New York was so determined to silence or destroy New Hope Family Services that it violated New Hope’s First Amendment rights and launched a barrage of unlawful and discriminatory attacks against the organization,” said ADF Senior Counsel Roger Brooks in a press release. “Thankfully, that harassment has come to an end. The government can’t force a faith-based nonprofit to choose between violating its religious beliefs or losing its ability to serve adoptive parents and children.”
“This is a victory for children waiting to be adopted, prospective parents partnering with New Hope who wants to provide loving and stable homes, and the entire Syracuse community,” Brooks continued.
Earlier in the case, CBN News reported last September that a federal judge ruled New York can not force or shut down the Syracuse-based adoption agency for declining to provide adoption services to unmarried persons or same-sex couples.
U.S. District Court Judge Mae A. D’Agostino in Albany cited free speech protections granting New Hope a summary judgment and ruling the state couldn’t “compel the agency to process applications from, or place children for adoption with, same-sex couples or unmarried cohabitating couples.”
The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) had issued an ultimatum telling the faith-based adoption agency to revise its “discriminatory and impermissible” policy or stop providing families for children who need them.
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New Hope Family Services said it could only provide adoption services to married heterosexual couples because of religious beliefs after the state amended its Domestic Relations Law in 2010, according to court filings. The law gave unmarried adult couples and married couples, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, the right to adopt.
For more than four years, the New York OCFS agency threatened to close the nonprofit because of its Bible-based policy. So the Syracuse-based group filed a lawsuit against the OCFS in 2018 claiming the agency violated its freedom of religion.
“Every child deserves a home with a loving mother and father who are committed to each other,” said New Hope Family Services Executive Director Kathy Jerman. “It’s regrettable that New York ever threatened to shut down our adoption services, through which we have placed more than 1,000 children with adoptive families since we began in 1965.”
“We live in a diverse state, and we need more adoption providers, not fewer. We’re grateful this case has reached a favorable end that allows us to keep serving children and families,” Jerman added.
New Hope has an extraordinary record of successfully finding adoptive parents for children who are categorized as “hard to place” due to disability, medical condition, or other factors, according to the ADF. In recent decades, the vast majority of infants placed by New Hope have fallen into one or more “hard to place” categories, yet New Hope has never failed to find a permanent adoptive home for any child entrusted to its care—even infants with severe medical conditions.