Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys, representing Christian Healthcare Centers, have filed an opening brief at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, urging the court to protect the organization's constitutionally protected right to operate as a religious ministry without being forced to violate its beliefs.
What Is Alliance Defending Freedom?
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, marriage and family and the sanctity of life.
Founded in 1994, Alliance Defending Freedom has gained recognition as a prominent and influential advocacy group, particularly in cases involving religious liberty and related constitutional rights.
The organization has been involved in various high-profile legal battles, has represented parties in 15 victories at the U.S. Supreme Court and played a prominent role in 74 Supreme Court victories over the last 30 years.
ADF International is the international branch of Alliance Defending Freedom, dedicated to advocating for religious freedom and fundamental human rights on a global scale. ADF International focuses its efforts on promoting and protecting these rights in various international forums, legal systems, and organizations.
The Christian Healthcare Centers' Case
Christian Healthcare Centers is a non-profit healthcare provider dedicated to delivering top-notch medical services to its diverse membership.
They also prioritize affordability by offering reduced prices to lower-income patients who may struggle to access quality healthcare elsewhere.
Founded with a clear Christian perspective, Christian Healthcare Centers not only attend to patients' medical needs but also address their emotional and spiritual well-being. To maintain this mission, the organization employs staff who are aligned with its religious values and can offer medical care that aligns with these beliefs.
Christian Healthcare Centers serve everyone, including individuals who identify as a part of the LGBT community. But the state of Michigan is threatening the core mission of how they operate.
In Christian Healthcare Centers v Nessel, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys contend that Michigan's civil rights laws, enforced by Attorney General Dana Nessel and other state officials, are threatening Christian Healthcare by requiring the organization to employ individuals who do not align with its faith, prescribe cross-sex hormones, and use pronouns that do not correspond to a person's biological sex. Additionally, these laws restrict Christian Healthcare Centers from publicly conveying their religious justifications for these decisions. These restrictions are in direct conflict with the ministry's religious convictions and have a detrimental impact on its capacity to deliver safe healthcare to both the underserved population and the broader community.
Michigan's Civil Rights Laws
Michigan's laws include the Accommodation Clause, Employment Clause, and Publication Clause, which collectively prohibit discrimination based on various protected traits, such as religion, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The laws affect employers and public accommodations and restrict their ability to make employment decisions, publish statements, or communicate preferences based on these traits. These laws are enforced easily, and various individuals and organizations can file complaints, even without being directly affected.
In the brief, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys contend that Michigan has expanded the scope of these laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity and has been active in enforcing them against faith-based organizations and businesses. Christian Healthcare Centers, aware of the legal actions against similar entities, have self-censored and modified its practices to avoid prosecution, leading to challenges in its employment decisions and recruitment efforts due to Michigan's laws.
Impact on Christian Healthcare Centers
ADF attorneys argue that Christian Healthcare Centers has legal standing and its claims are ripe for consideration.
The brief contends that Christian Healthcare Centers’ activities are at risk due to Michigan's laws, meeting the Supreme Court's pre-enforcement standing test.
These laws include the use of pronouns, prescription of cross-sex hormones, employment practices, and the publication of their religious values. Michigan's refusal to disavow enforcement actions and its active prosecution of similar organizations create a credible threat, justifying the presumption of standing, particularly in First Amendment cases, according to the brief.
Enforcement Against Faith-Based Organizations
The brief also points out that Michigan actively enforces its laws through investigations of various complaints, totaling over 12,000 between 2011 and 2022. Specifically, from May 2018 to December 2019, Michigan investigated 73 complaints regarding sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. It points out that Michigan is currently investigating several religious businesses and organizations, indicating active enforcement. ADF attorneys argued that Michigan's laws make it easy for complaints to be filed by allowing any "aggrieved" person to do so, further increasing the potential for enforcement.
ADF attorneys concluded that Christian Healthcare Centers believes these laws fail strict scrutiny and requested the court to reinstate their case, affirm their standing, and issue a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of these laws.
In a statement on Alliance Defending Freedom Media, ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch said religious organizations should be free to operate and serve their communities according to their beliefs. "Rather than respect Christian Healthcare Centers’ constitutionally protected freedom—and the incredible work they do in the community—Michigan state officials are threatening to punish them for not buying into activist ideas of gender identity,” Bursch said. “Christian Healthcare Centers should be free to continue its vibrant outreach to the communities it serves through its low-cost, high-quality medical care. We urge the court to allow it to continue without fear of government punishment," he added.