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Two recent religious liberty victories in Michigan and Iowa

Oct 16, 2019

Buck v. Gordon

Buck v. Gordon began on April 15, 2019, and represents a significant development for religious liberty within the foster care and adoption community in the United States. The case deals with the issue of St. Vincent Catholic Charities choosing “to refer same-sex and unmarried families who seek foster and adoption recommendations and endorsements to agencies that have no objection to providing those services.” Becket Law filed the lawsuit “asking the court to allow faith-based agencies to continue what they do best: uniting children with loving families.” 

On Sept. 26, the district court ordered the State of Michigan to continue to work with St. Vincent Catholic Charities. Prior to the district court’s order, the State of Michigan attempted to shut down all faith-based foster care and adoption agencies because the agencies sought to operate in a manner that was consistent with their biblical convictions about families. As David French noted in his article, “St. Vincent upholds Catholic teaching by referring same-sex and unmarried families who seek foster and adoption recommendations and endorsements to agencies that have no objection to providing those services.” 

To be clear, then, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, even when they did not place a child with a family on the basis of the organization’s beliefs, referred families to organizations that would facilitate placement. Thus, St. Vincent did not seek to prohibit people from being placed with children, but rather, they sought to honor their sincerely held religious beliefs about the family while referring people to organizations that held different values. While it is likely that this court decision will be appealed, the current ruling represents a positive ruling for all faith-based foster care and adoption agencies in Michigan.

InterVarsity v. University of Iowa

In a more recent case, InterVarsity v. University of Iowa, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa ruled in favor of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s right to minister on the UI campus in a manner that is consistent with their convictions. Specifically, the court ruled that InterVarsity, as a Christian group, is free to require its group leaders to “share its Christian faith.” InterVarsity, thus, was not excluding anyone from participating in the general meetings of the organization. Instead, they were practicing discernment in appointing leaders within their organization that shared the values of InterVarsity. 

The worship of the one true God should neither be coerced or restricted by the government.

While it should seem obvious that organizations should possess the freedom to appoint leaders who understand and share the values of their organization, the University of Iowa saw things differently. Fortunately, on Sept. 27, 2019, an Iowa federal judge ruled in favor of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The judge concluded that the “discrimination was so egregious that the officers involved would be personally accountable for any money InterVarsity lost fighting to stay on campus. The court left open the possibility that the University’s president, Bruce Harreld, could also be found liable.”

With both of these cases, religious liberty was upheld. Believers and non-believers everywhere should celebrate these rulings because they preserve the rights of individuals to worship or not worship in accordance with their sincerely held beliefs. Furthermore, the rights of organizations to operate in a manner consistent with their values were protected, which is good for all in society. The worship of the one true God should neither be coerced or restricted by the government. With Buck v. Gordon and InterVarsity v. University of Iowa, neither coercion nor restriction by the government won the day. With the apostle Paul, we can rejoice in this ruling that reflects God’s ordained purpose for the government (Rom. 13:1-7).

Casey B. Hough

Casey B. Hough is lead pastor at Copperfield Church in Houston, Texas, and a Ph.D. student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He also blogs regularly at www.CaseyHough.com. Casey and his wife, Hannah, have three sons and two daughters.  Read More