The brief argued that the state legislature is the body constitutionally charged with creating and amending state laws. This lawmaking process “permits people of diverse beliefs to cooperate in crafting laws that simultaneously protect both vulnerable persons and the conscience rights of Michigan residents.”
In cases of alleged discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, the conference said, the majority opinion “expressly does not address” whether enforcement under the state civil rights law would violate religious liberty constitutional protections at the federal and state level.
“Michigan Catholic Conference promotes public policies that protect conscience rights and the freedom for religious entities and individual persons to serve others, particularly those in need and those living on the economic margins,” the conference said Friday. “We profess that marriage is the union of one man and one woman united through life and open to the birth of children, even as society and culture has recently moved in a historically different direction. Christians are not called to conform to the culture, but to speak to it with truth and love.”
“The Catholic Church teaches that all people deserve to be treated with respect and compassion,” the conference added. “We urge citizens throughout their daily lives to approach and speak to one another in ways that acknowledge their inherent dignity, as every human person has been created in God’s image and likeness.”
“We will continue to advocate for religious liberty rights and seek to uphold constitutional principles that provide legal protections for those who serve others in the public square — particularly the poor and vulnerable — according to their religious mission,” the Michigan Catholic Conference said.
The Catholic conference’s amicus brief argued that civil rights department officials had requested “a sweeping ruling that would necessarily affect religious beliefs and entities” but these officials refused to address questions of religious liberty, saying they may be weighed in a future case.
The brief invoked a hypothetical lay Catholic institution’s job interviews with two women with same-sex attractions, one of whom states she is in a romantic same-sex relationship but the other says she does not act on her feelings, following Catholic teaching.
“Consistent with Catholic teaching, the organization might hire the first, but not the second, on the grounds that, by her actions, the second woman has demonstrated an opposition to Church teaching,” the brief said.
However, state officials would rule that this is an impermissible distinction because “the test is whether a man and a woman would be treated differently for being in a romantic relationship with a woman.”
There is no guarantee that state officials will care about a Catholic institution’s distinctions. Though statuary compromises can avoid these “dilemmas,” the department skipped this process by offering its own interpretation. This precludes the “type of careful compromise” that religious liberty precedents have reached.
Some religious challenges to the strict application of anti-discrimination policy have been successful. In March the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services paid at least $800,000 in legal fees to settle two Catholic child placement agencies. The agencies had made successful First Amendment legal challenges to an agreement that barred state funds for adoption agencies that declined to place children with same-sex couples.
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