Christian health care provider sues over LGBTQ protections in Michigan civil rights law

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A Christian health group claims Michigan’s civil rights law now violates its religious beliefs after a state court ruled discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal.

Christian Health Centers filed the federal lawsuit Monday, about a month after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the law includes protections for LGBTQ people. The faith-based nonprofit, based in the Grand Rapids area, said the law now “poses an imminent threat” to its constitutional right to operate as a religious ministry.

The issue is that Christian Healthcare is required to employ people of any faith and provide medical treatments that are inconsistent with their belief in “biological sex immutability.”

“Under the guise of stopping discrimination, the law discriminates against religious organizations by requiring them to lose their religious character and hire people who do not share their faith,” the lawsuit alleges.

Connected: Sexual orientation is now protected by Michigan civil rights law. What does this mean?

The lawsuit names Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who is responsible for enforcing civil rights law, Michigan Department of Civil Rights Executive Director John Johnson Jr. and the seven members of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

The Attorney General’s Office announced Tuesday that it is investigating the case.

Christian Healthcare defends its right to hire only people who share their religious beliefs because everything they do is “faith-infused,” such as staff prayer meetings, discussing spiritual aspects of medical care, and praying with patients.

The health care provider also claims the Michigan law violates its “religious beliefs,” potentially forcing the nonprofit to “prescribe cross-sex hormones” and treat patients by their “declared gender identity rather than their biological sex’.

“In fact, the law requires Christian Healthcare to verify its religious faith at the clinic door — the same faith that motivates the clinic to open its doors to help those in need,” the complaint states.

Christian Healthcare provides medical care to everyone without regard to race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the lawsuit.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a national nonprofit legal organization, is representing Christian Healthcare in the case.

“Now that the Michigan judiciary has essentially rewritten Michigan’s sex discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, this law threatens the ability of ministries like Christian Healthcare to faithfully serve their community,” said the general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom John Bursh.

The Christian legal interest group has been involved in nearly 30 US Supreme Court cases related to religious freedom, same-sex marriage and abortion. It is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-LGBTQ beliefs. But Alliance Defending Freedom responded by calling the law center a “radical left-wing organization.”

Bursh emphasized that the Christian Healthcare case is not a “discrimination issue” but a “religious freedom” defense.

“They don’t exclude anyone, they don’t discriminate against anyone, instead they take action to hire and provide medical services in a way that will allow everyone to thrive,” he said.

Connected: The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that sexual orientation is protected by civil rights law

The Michigan law protects LGBTQ people from discrimination after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in late July that the word “sex” in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 includes sexual orientation.

The issue reached the Supreme Court after two Michigan businesses were investigated for refusing service to LGBTQ people. A lawsuit filed by Rouch World and UpRooted Electrolysis two years ago argued that the state could not investigate claims of LGBTQ discrimination based on a 2018 interpretive statement.

But the 5-2 court ruling solidified LGBTQ rights under the law.

Legal recognition of LGBTQ rights has created a tension between religious freedom and civil rights.

“This is going to be the newest legal and social issue for the foreseeable future,” said Stephen Winter, the Walter S. Gibbs Professor of Constitutional Law at Wayne State University, who is not involved in the case.

Several cases have reached the US Supreme Court, including a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple, a Pennsylvania foster care agency that wouldn’t certify same-sex couples, and a Colorado web designer who didn’t want to make one. .. sex wedding websites.

But the courts have yet to set a precedent for denying service based on religion.

Connected: Openly gay leaders say Michigan is at ‘tipping point’ for LGBTQ acceptance as fight for rights heats up

Winter said this standoff over religious freedom and LGBTQ rights “will never be approved” if it comes down to racial discrimination.

“I’m not sure that’s logically consistent, but I think it reflects moral standards.” The morality of racial discrimination is much more deeply ingrained in our society, which is a great development and has literally happened in my lifetime,” he said. “LGBTQ rights obviously aren’t there yet, but I think they will be for a generation in the future.”

Christian Healthcare is seeking an injunction to stop Michigan from enforcing the civil rights law because of First Amendment rights, but Winter says, “you can’t stop the state attorney general from enforcing the law.”

The health group is asking the court for declaratory relief in hiring.

Winter said the lawsuit makes a strong case for employment, but the arguments around free speech seem “incredibly weak.” As it winds its way through the courts, the case could eventually set a precedent in both Michigan and the United States — a goal of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“This could be a decision that other courts in other states around the country are looking to make sure that religious organizations can hire people who share their faith, can advertise that they’re trying to hire people who share their faith, and can run their businesses and organizations in ways that do not violate their religious beliefs,” Bursh said.

The prosecution and the other defendants have 21 days to respond to the case.

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