New York adoption agency wins case upholding their religious beliefs

By Maureen Collins

There are more than 400,000 children in the foster care system nationwide. This includes over 25,000 children in the state of New York alone.

You would think that government agencies would want as many adoption providers as possible working to find homes for these children. Yet, in some states, government officials are cutting ties with—and in some cases, outright attempting to shut down—adoption providers because of their religious beliefs about the best home for a child.

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New Hope Family Services in upstate New York is one of these providers. But, thankfully, today New Hope Family Services got some great news from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The apostle James urged Christians “to look after the orphans and widows in their distress.” Christians throughout history have always taken care of children in need of a home. In America, one of the first orphanages was founded before the Revolutionary War by a Christian preacher.

New Hope Family Services has continued this tradition for over 50 years.

New Hope is an “arm-around-the-shoulder” ministry committed to meeting the needs of every life touched by adoption. This adoption agency provides adoption planning and placement while remaining committed to helping prepare adoptive parents for their unique responsibilities. New Hope is also a pregnancy center that offers pregnancy tests, medical referrals, and counseling. New Hope provides all these services through their generous donors; the organization does not receive any public funding.

New Hope is committed to walking with adoptive families and birth parents alike to place children with adoptive families. And it has done so with excellence.

In the fall of 2018, the New York Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) recognized this in a review, writing in a letter that the organization “had a number of strengths in providing adoption services.”

But then something changed.

Just months after OCFS gave New Hope Family Services a positive review, the agency changed course, calling one of the organization’s policies “discriminatory and impermissible.”

Had New Hope changed any of its policies since the favorable review? No. But as a Christian non-profit, New Hope believes that the best environment for children is in a home with a married mom and dad. For that reason, New Hope does not place children for adoption with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples. Instead, New Hope kindly refers them to one of the other approximately 130 adoption providers in New York—the vast majority of which will place children with any individual who qualifies.

New Hope’s decision to care for children according to its faith was too much for OCFS. Despite its previous favorable review of New Hope, the agency issued an ultimatum to New Hope: violate its religious beliefs or close its adoption services. OCFS took this position even though New Hope receives no public funding.

Faith-based adoption providers should not be punished for their religious beliefs. And children should not be deprived of forever homes because government bureaucrats disfavor religious organizations that believe children benefit from having a married mom and dad. For both of these reasons, New Hope asked a federal court to protect it from being singled out, punished, and disfavored because of its Christian beliefs.

New Hope filed a complaint against OCFS in federal district court on December 6, 2018. Unfortunately, the district court dismissed the case on May 16, 2019.

So New Hope appealed its case up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

On November 4, the Second Circuit issued an emergency order, allowing New Hope to keep its doors open and continue serving families and children while its appeal was being considered. The Second Circuit heard oral arguments in New Hope’s case on November 13, 2019.

And today, the Second Circuit ruled in favor of New Hope by reversing the district court’s decision to dismiss the case! This is a huge win for New Hope. With its ruling, the Second Circuit guaranteed that New Hope will finally have a chance to prove its case in court. And with such important constitutional freedoms and the well-being of so many children at stake, New Hope has every reason to believe it will be able to do just that.

New Hope Family Services has served the greater Syracuse, New York area for more than 50 years.

New Hope Family Service’s Christian faith is central to its mission. It should be able to operate according to its religious beliefs in a pluralistic society such as ours. There is no reason to single out and punish those who hold the belief that the best home for a child includes a mother and a father, committed to each other in marriage.

The Bottom Line

Adoption providers who help children find a loving home with a mother and father should be protected, not shut down for their faith. And children should not be punished by government bureaucrats who do not share (or who outright condemn) the religious beliefs of such providers.

Maureen Collins is a writer for ADF Legal.