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Foster Care Case Up To Bat, And A Summer Of Important Wins

A Message from Becket’s Executive Director

August 29, 2019
Dear Friends,
Michigan has a foster care and adoption crisis: there are more children in the system than there are willing parents to foster them. That’s why Melissa Buck goes beyond her role as mother to five children, all adopted out of foster care, to recruit other parents to foster and adopt. Melissa’s motivation to recruit goes deeper than a desire to fix a problem—it has become her ministry. But Melissa doesn’t know how she can continue to recruit other parents if she can’t entrust them to an agency that will support them, like the one her family has relied on, St. Vincent Catholic Charities.

The State of Michigan’s decision to sever contracts with faith-based agencies is threatening Melissa’s personal ministry and exacerbating the foster care crisis, making it harder for kids in the system to find permanent, loving homes. On August 22, Becket went to court for Melissa Buck and St. Vincent, asking the court to allow faith-based agencies to continue doing what they do best—and what’s best for kids in Michigan’s foster care system.

This oral argument came on the heels of a victorious summer. On August 8, we won our case at the Third Circuit defending religious imagery in a historic Lehigh, Pennsylvania government seal, dealing a blow to the notoriously bad “Lemon test.” On the same day, the Seventh Circuit ruled for a Chicago Catholic church, agreeing with Becket’s friend-of-the-court-brief and bolstering the principle of “ministerial exception.” Out with the bad precedent and in with the good—now let’s build on it!

What’s happening at Becket:

Ministerial exception for the win. On August 8, the Seventh Circuit handed down an important victory in Sterlinksi v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago. The ruling affirmed the principle of “ministerial exception,” made famous by Becket’s 2012 Supreme Court Hosanna-Tabor case. Ministerial exception strengthens church autonomy, recognizing that churches have the right to choose their own leaders.

SCOTUS, kids deserve more. In July, we asked the Supreme Court to take our case representing children, families, and Catholic Social Services, a Catholic foster agency in Philadelphia. You’ll remember the case—the City of Philadelphia abruptly suspended its contract with Catholic Social Services because of its religious beliefs, even though the city is in dire need of foster families. Dozens of homes of willing foster parents remain empty, while hundreds of kids remain in the system, because of the city’s actions.

Hair’s the thing. When Cesar Gonzales was an infant, he was seriously ill—so ill that his parents made a religious promise to God that, if their son recovered, they would keep a strand of hair on his head uncut as a sign of their faith and gratitude. Cesar got better, and he and his brother Diego both continue to keep their hair uncut and have adopted the promise to God as their own. Their Texas elementary school accommodated their faith, but that changed in seventh grade. Now, the Gonzales brothers are banned from participating in school activities like band performance, robotics team, and athletics⁠—just because of their hair. Becket has stepped in to ask the school to accommodate the Gonzales brothers’ religious exercise.

Becket in the news:

Lehigh win “a victory for common sense.” The Morning Call hails Becket’s win defending the Lehigh, Pennsylvania seal against what it calls one of Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “cockamamie attempts to stir up controversies.”

Discriminatory state law on trial at the Supreme Court. The Washington Examiner featured Becket’s Eric Baxter in its preview of a Supreme Court case on the docket this fall. In Espinoza v. Montana, SCOTUS will weigh in on whether the State of Montana can exclude families and students from educational benefits because they attend religious schools.

“No student-athlete should be kept from competition because of their faith.” Read about Becket’s case representing Joelle and Joseph Chung, siblings and Seventh-day Adventists who are standing up for their right to both compete in athletics and observe their Sabbath. Watch a clip of their dad on Laura Ingraham’s show here.

What we’re reading:

“[P]olitical liberty and economic liberty are the guarantors of religious liberty.” The Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn writes up Fr. Sirico and his work at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

The calm before the storm at the Supreme Court. Becket’s President Mark Rienzi gives a recap of Supreme Court religious liberty cases and a preview of what might come.

“If we want our communities to heal…we need churches.” Read Jacqueline Rivers’ moving piece to see why minority and poor congregations benefit the most from the parsonage allowance, and why Becket’s victory in Chicago is so important.

Religious liberty in the execution chamber. In April, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas cannot allow chaplains of some faiths, but not others, to attend to inmates during execution. The State’s response was to change their policy—now, no chaplains are allowed in the execution chamber. Houston Chronicle’s editorial board is looking to change that.


Montse Alvarado
Executive Director

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