Giving Michigan Children In Need a Home for the Holidays

POST BY Amy Lynn Smith Guest blogger

With the holiday season in full swing, many of us are focused on family time—celebrating favorite traditions, making new memories or simply basking in the warmth of family and friends.

At the ACLU of Michigan, the gift we wish for most this holiday season is that all of the children in our state have loving homes of their own. And that means making sure that everyone who is qualified have the right to adopt a child or welcome a foster child into their home.

That’s why we remain deeply troubled by the discriminatory adoption law that Gov. Rick Snyder signed in June. This law allows any adoption agency to refuse to accept a foster-care or adoption referral from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) if that referral conflicts with the agency’s religious beliefs.

And as you might expect, it is faith-based adoption agencies that enjoy the largest contracts with the state.

Thus, under this misguided law, someone could meet every qualification for being a loving, nurturing and responsible caregiver—but if the agency objects because the person is LGBTQ, single, not Christian or just not the “right” kind of Christian, those people can be turned away. What’s more, these agencies also can refuse to serve youth who are LGBTQ or non-Christian.

That means any one of the 13,000 children now in state custody could be denied a loving home because of someone else’s personal religious views—and the State of Michigan allows it.

This isn’t simply something these state-funded agencies have threatened. It’s something they’ve testified that they already do.

The ACLU has opposed this discriminatory law since day one. We’ve requested documents from the state on the agencies’ procedures and continue investigating this issue.

In the meantime, we celebrate the many organizations that care for children in need—all children in need, regardless of faith, sexual or gender identity, or any other characteristics. We value organizations that base their decisions to care for our state’s youth only on the best interests of the child.

One stellar example is the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park, a youth social services agency that serves the needs of runaway, homeless and at-risk youth. The Ruth Ellis Center is one of only three organizations in the country with a residential program for LGBTQ youth in the foster care and juvenile justice system—Ruth’s House—and the only LGBTQ homeless youth provider in Michigan.

“No one is turned away or denied services by Ruth Ellis Center, which is central to our principles,” says Jerry Peterson, Executive Director. “During the holidays, our beds are full and we provide support and comfort to at-risk youth, just as we do all year long.”

Every year, outside organizations help make the holiday a little brighter for residents of Ruth’s House. This Christmas, Christ Church Grosse Pointe, Gesu Catholic Church in Detroit and Plante Moran are bringing in gifts and good cheer to make Ruth’s House feel even more like home for the young residents. This giving spirit is a wonderful example of how good works do not have to be limited to one’s own faith—or to any faith at all.

“We are grateful to all the organizations that bolster the work of the Ruth Ellis Center,” Peterson says. “It’s important that the youth we serve know that they have the support and encouragement of people and groups from all walks of life.”

The ACLU of Michigan extends our appreciation to the Ruth Ellis Center and all of the organizations across Michigan that serve our state’s youth without bias. And to the children waiting for loving homes, please know that, along with sending you our best wishes this holiday season, we are working toward a more hopeful future for you in the year ahead. 

That means any one of the 13,000 children now in state custody could be denied a loving home because of someone else’s personal religious views—and the State of Michigan allows it.

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