GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan (LifeSiteNews) — A Michigan-based Christian charity is reportedly under review by the state health department and the attorney general over a new hiring policy that requires employees to profess a shared belief in Christianity.
Grand Rapids-based charity Bethany Christian Services (BCS) is an explicitly Christian nonprofit organization whose work encompasses adoption, foster care, pregnancy assistance, and aiding refugees and immigrants. The group sparked backlash several years ago when it reversed a policy prohibiting the placement of children with homosexual couples.
On Sunday, NBC affiliate outlet Target 8 reported that BCS recently began “enforcing a strict Christians-only hiring mandate several months after the arrival of a new chief executive officer,” Keith Cureton, who took the reins in July.
Under Cureton’s leadership, the organization swiftly ditched its earlier exceptions to the Christians-only hiring policy and cracked down on “workplace displays of support for LGBTQ+ individuals and other politically divisive movements,” per the report. The bans reportedly included prohibitions of pro-LGBT images and Black Lives Matter (BLM) banners but also restricted conservative imagery like MAGA flags or banners depicting the American revolutionary year “1776.”
Such a policy is far from unprecedented. In 2022, LifeSite reported that a Pennsylvania school district enacted a similar policy to prohibit “political activity, sociopolitical advocacy, sexual orientation advocacy, gender identity advocacy, and religious advocacy” using “district time, resources, property, or equipment.”
While the measure banned artifacts representing both left-wing and right-wing ideas, just as the BCS policy does, thereby not singling out one ideology for censure, the ACLU filed a complaint against the district alleging the policy had created a “hostile” and “toxic” environment for LGBT and “gender non-conforming” students.
BCS hasn’t been hit with a lawsuit from the ACLU, but the Michigan-based charity is facing criticism and, apparently, a review from state officials.
One employee who spoke with Target 8 on condition of anonymity reported feeling “shocked” by the moves. He said that other employees also feel “frustrated” and “hurt.”
The unnamed employee said the changes came after BCS moved its refugee branch from its former location to the organization’s “main campus,” where “higher-ups” expressed dissatisfaction with “the refugee side[‘s] embrace of “diversity” and “widespread passion for LGBTQ+ inclusion.”
The employee further argued that the Christian charity’s new policies emphasizing its Christian identity run afoul of federal and state contracts and the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics.
Target 8 said it reached out to both the Michigan attorney general’s office as well as the U.S. and Michigan Departments of Health and Human Services. The AG’s office and MDHHS both informed the outlet that they were “aware of the matter” and digging into it, while the federal HHS did not respond.
It’s unclear whether BCS, which accepts funding from the government, could face state or federal crackdowns over its policy.
U.S. law allows faith-based organizations to apply their religious standards in hiring, exempting them from anti-discrimination laws that would otherwise forbid considerations of religion in personnel decisions, Target 8 pointed out.
Responding to a separate case involving the right of Catholic high schools to only hire individuals who abide by Catholic morality, nonprofit law firm Becket Law affirmed that “[r]eligious organizations must be free to choose those who carry out their religious mission,” a principle “repeatedly been upheld by the Supreme Court.”
But if hit with a legal challenge, BCS might have to show that it qualifies as a religious employer.
Representatives of two legal groups weighed in with opposite opinions of the matter in Zoom interviews with Target 8.
Jay Kaplan of Michigan’s ACLU chapter told the outlet that BCS’ mission is providing “foster placement services on behalf of the state,” not performing a religious function.
However, Steve McFarland of Christian Legal Society presented a different argument, arguing that Bethany Christian Services’ mission as a religious organization is exceptionally clear.
He pointed to the group’s mission statement, which explicitly affirms that it “is committed as an organization to demonstrating the love and compassion of Jesus Christ by protecting children, empowering youth, and strengthening families through quality social services.”
Meanwhile, although the employee who spoke to Target 8 said that the organization had “fired several managers who were not enforcing the pride flag ban,” the outlet also reported that BCS informed staff it had no intention of terminating the employment of non-Christians who are already employed by the organization.
In a statement, Bethany Christian Services told the NBC affiliate that its “employees remain accountable for performing in a satisfactory manner the assigned duties of their position so that Bethany can successfully carry out the mission to see a world where all children, youth, and families are safe, loved, and connected.”