(WXMI) — A Michigan church is suing the state over protections added to the state’s civil rights statute this summer.
In July, the Michigan Supreme Court added protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, prohibiting employers and businesses from discriminating against someone on that basis.
On Monday, St. Joseph Catholic Church, which serves about 900 families and also operates a Catholic school, filed a lawsuit against the attorney general, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the state Civil Rights Commission alleging that protections newly added leaves them vulnerable. to legal action simply for adhering to their religious beliefs.
“Michigan’s new understanding of ‘sex’ discrimination makes it illegal for St. Joseph to follow the 2,000-year-old teachings of the Catholic Church, including its teaching that marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. female, that sexual relations are limited to marriage, and that human beings are created as either male or female,” the lawsuit, filed in US District Court, reads. “As are Catholic schools throughout across the country, St. Joseph Catholic School calls on all teachers to uphold Catholic teachings in word and deed. The ELCRA does not contain a religious exemption that would cover St. Joseph’s hiring decisions and enforcement of its code of conduct for both employees and students.”
The fear is that the school could face a legal backlash for denying jobs to LGBTQ people, despite the fact that the Catholic Church has always taken a stand against homosexuality and different gender identities. They say they could also lose access to public programs tied to St. John Public Schools and the Clinton County Regional Educational Services Agency (RESA).
Similarly, the church also fears that they may violate the new protections as a public accommodation, or a place that is often open to the public.
“Also at stake is the ability of St. Joseph to rent its facilities, such as the gym and soccer fields, and whether it can carry out its parish activities open to all, such as attending Mass, without being responsible as accommodation. public,” the lawsuit says.
“No school is isolated; you participate in sports leagues; it has special programs for students who have disabilities or special needs,” said Lori Windham, vice president and senior board of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents St. Joseph Catholic Church. “As a Catholic school, they want to make sure that even though they open their doors to the public, that doesn’t mean they have to change their rules or change their policies. As a Catholic school, they have different rules for boys and girls and different bathrooms for boys and girls, locker rooms, things like that, and they want to make sure that they are not required to do something or act in a way. That is contrary to their Catholic faith.”
“That is the fear, that they could be sued; they could have enforcement actions from the state government and that could have a big impact on a small school and a small parish,” Windham continued.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office told FOX 17 that they had not yet received the lawsuit.
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights also told FOX 17 that they had not yet received the lawsuit, adding: “The Commission and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights generally affirm the Supreme Court’s interpretation that the Michigan Civil Rights Act Elliott-Larsen provides protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The claim was filed on same week The US Supreme Court appeared poised to back a Colorado web designer who was accused of denying services to LGBTQ customers, despite a state law prohibiting such discrimination. The court’s conservative majority was expected to hand the web designer a victory in a series of recent court victories for religious liberty groups.
Windham said the goal of the St. Joseph Catholic Church lawsuit was not to overturn the Michigan Supreme Court’s July decision, but to seek clarity about how religious groups should operate given the new protections.
“I think it’s really important for that larger conversation because you have this question about: What do you do when you have religious believers in your community and the law conflicts with them?” Windham said. “I think this is really about how we can live together as a nation. We have people who have different beliefs about marriage, gender and sexuality, so it’s about making sure there’s a space for a Catholic church and a Catholic school to be Catholic. But that doesn’t take away the ability of others in the community to have rights and have their own spaces as well.”
Windham said they will now wait for all parties to receive the lawsuit, which could take several weeks.
Read the full lawsuit here: