In a courageous stand against a state law they believe violates their religious beliefs, a Catholic school in Michigan is fighting back. Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish of Grand Rapids argues that the law would force them to hire employees who do not uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled that the state’s Civil Rights Act covers sexual orientation and gender identity, which means the school may be required to employ individuals who do not comply with church teachings. Sacred Heart worries that this would dilute the impact of its faith-based message.
— Millennial Conservative ™️ (@Milennial_con) November 26, 2023
This case has caught the attention and support of other religious groups as well. The Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty and the Religious Freedom Institute’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team have filed an amicus brief in support of the school. They fear that a misapplication or retrenchment of the coreligionist exemption would be especially harmful to minority religious faiths, who often organize collectively as an expression and exercise of their faith.
While organizations can seek exemptions from the law, these groups argue that the application process is burdensome and relies on the discretion of a bureaucrat. They believe this is not enough to protect the religious freedom of schools like Sacred Heart. The lawsuit argues that if the state wins, the school will be forced to hire faculty and staff who directly oppose Catholic doctrine, compromising the institution’s right to free speech and free exercise.
Parents who choose Sacred Heart do so because they value the religious message the school promotes. They want their children to grow academically and spiritually in the Catholic faith. The lawsuit argues that parents have the fundamental freedom to choose the best education for their children, and the government cannot deprive them of that.
Sacred Heart’s lawsuit also focuses on the discrimination claims the school may face if it refuses to hire staff who do not live out the Catholic precepts. According to the lawsuit, the school’s standard of conduct requires employees to be consistent with Catholic teachings and not advocate beliefs inconsistent with the faith. The suit argues that the state law cannot undermine Catholic doctrine on gender and marriage.
Fearful of government enforcement and citing past comments from the state attorney general hostile to the Catholic faith, Sacred Heart believes that Michigan officials are forcing them to make an unconstitutional and unconscionable choice – either stop practicing their faith or shut down permanently. The Alliance Defending Freedom, representing the school, sees this as a fundamental religious freedom issue and hopes that the lawsuit will protect the rights of Sacred Heart and other religious institutions facing similar challenges.