A Michigan Catholic school is fighting back against a state law it says would require the school to violate its beliefs to appease state authorities.
Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish of Grand Rapids is being supported by groups representing Jews and Muslims in its effort to avoid being forced to hire employees who do not live out the beliefs of the Catholic church.
Last year, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the sex discrimination prohibitions in the state’s Civil Rights Act cover sexual orientation and “gender identity,” according to a news release from the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the school and parish.
What that means to the school is that individuals who do not comply with church teaching could be hired, watering down the impact of the faith-based message it sends.
Noting the impact of the case extends beyond one school and one religion, the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty and the Religious Freedom Institute’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team have filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the school, according to Fox News.
“In particular, [the groups] fear that the misapplication or retrenchment of the coreligionist exemption would have an especially deleterious effect on adherents of minority religious faiths who often organize collectively to learn, teach, act, and serve as an expression and exercise of their faith,” the brief states.
Organizations can apply for an exemption, but the groups said a “discretionary exemption scheme that starts with a burdensome application process and ends by hoping that a bureaucrat will deign to dole out an exemption” through the office of Democratic state Attorney General Dana Nessel is not good enough.
The lawsuit declares that if the state were to prevail, Sacred Heart of Jesus would have to “hire faculty and staff who lead lives in direct opposition to the Catholic faith, speak messages that violate Church doctrine, and refrain from articulating Catholic beliefs in teaching its students and when advertising the school to prospective students or job applicants.”
“All of this violates Sacred Heart’s free speech and free exercise rights. Rather than defy Catholic doctrine in these ways, Sacred Heart would shut down,” the lawsuit states, noting that the free exercise rights of parents who choose a school based on their religion are being compromised.
In the ADF news release, senior counsel Kate Anderson pointed out that parents select Sacred Heart for its religious message.
“The parents we represent in this case specifically opted out of public schools and instead chose to send their children to Sacred Heart Academy so that they could grow academically and spiritually in the Catholic faith,” Anderson said. “Every parent has the right to make the best education decision for their children, and the government can’t deprive parents of that fundamental freedom.”
The lawsuit argues the law could leave the school open to claims of discrimination because it does not hire staff who will not live out Catholic precepts.
“Sacred Heart’s standard of conduct requires that employees must be consistent, in expression and example, with the teaching and practice of the Catholic faith and shall not advocate, encourage, or counsel beliefs or practices that are inconsistent with the Catholic faith,” the lawsuit states.
“If churches and religious organizations cannot limit their membership to those who support and believe in an organization’s or community’s culture and mission, it changes and undermines those institutions.”
The suit argues that state law cannot bend “Catholic doctrine that mankind is created in two distinct but complementary sexes, male and female.”
“Sacred Heart requires all employees to embrace and follow the Church’s doctrine on marriage and human sexuality,” the lawsuit states, adding, “Sacred Heart believes and embraces Catholic doctrine on marriage and human sexuality. Sacred Heart rejects ideologies that are incompatible with Catholic doctrine, like transgender ideology.”
“Sacred Heart cannot embrace transgender ideology because that ideology does not reflect the truth and is inconsistent with Catholic doctrine and the Church’s vision for human flourishing.”
The lawsuit states it doubts government will give it fair treatment, because “Defendant Nessel believes that failing to use preferred pronouns is an act of gender-identity discrimination, as the policy for her office requires employees to use preferred pronouns and contains no religious accommodations or exceptions.”
It cites also Nessel’s past comments.
“Sacred Heart also fears aggressive government enforcement because Defendant Nessel has made public comments hostile to the Catholic faith and because the school’s faith-based approach to education makes it a target for those who disagree with its religious worldview,” the lawsuit said.
“Michigan officials are forcing Sacred Heart to make an unconstitutional and unconscionable choice: Rither cease teaching and practicing the Catholic faith or close their doors forever,” Ryan Tucker, ADF senior counsel and director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries, said in the news release.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.