NY State to Pay $250K to Faith-Based Adoption Agency After Trying to Shut It Down for 4 Years
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In what's being called a victory for children awaiting adoption and religious ministries, the state of New York has agreed to pay $250,000 in attorneys' fees and costs after trying to close New Hope Family Services because of its religious beliefs.
As CBN News reported in September, a federal judge ruled that 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 settlement of the lawsuit, New Hope Family Services v. Poole, in which Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys represented the adoption agency, ensures that New York's Office of Children and Family Services can no longer target New Hope for its religious policies and that it can continue serving the community by placing children in loving, permanent homes.
"The state's attempt to close New Hope violated its core rights protected by the First Amendment and needlessly reduced the number of agencies willing to help vulnerable children," said ADF Senior Counsel Roger Brooks. "New Hope is a private religious ministry that doesn't take a dime from the government. Further, New Hope's faith-guided services don't coerce anyone and do nothing to interfere with other adoption providers who have different beliefs about family and the best interests of children."
"On behalf of the children waiting to be adopted and the prospective parents partnering with New Hope to provide loving and stable homes, we're pleased to favorably settle this case and ensure the organization can continue its vital service to the Syracuse community," Brooks added.
As CBN News reported, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) issued an ultimatum to the adoption group telling the faith-based agency to revise its "discriminatory and impermissible" policy or stop providing families for children who need them.
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.
In 2018, the Syracuse-based group filed a lawsuit against the OCFS claiming the agency violated their freedom of religion.
For more than four years, the New York OCFS agency threatened to close the nonprofit because of its policy, guided by its religious beliefs, of placing children it serves in homes with a married mother and father.
New Hope operates as an adoption agency and pregnancy resource center. The nonprofit accepts no government funding and, besides the fees paid by adoptive parents, funds its ministry through support from churches, individual donors, and private grants.
"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. "New Hope walks with adoptive families and birth parents alike to place children with adoptive families. 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."
Legal Battle Not Over
ADF attorneys are still litigating a different case for New Hope Family Services against New York state officials. Yet another state agency sought to punish New Hope for the very same religious policy that the federal court upheld in Poole.
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 is asking 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.
In September 2022, a federal court ruled to grant New Hope's request for a preliminary injunction in this case as well.
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