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Christian Healthcare Centers v. Nessel

Description:  Michigan’s civil rights law, which state courts recently reinterpreted to include sexual orientation and gender identity, now requires religious organizations like Christian Healthcare Centers to hire people who do not share their faith, to prescribe cross-sex hormones to facilitate efforts to alter a patient’s biological sex, and to use pronouns that do not accord with a person’s biological sex. All of this violates Christian Healthcare Centers’ religious beliefs and undermines its ability to provide safe healthcare to the needy and the rest of the community.

Doctors walking
Friday, Oct 27, 2023

CINCINNATI – Several groups from diverse religious and philosophical backgrounds have united in support of a faith-based medical ministry in friend-of-the-court briefs filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Christian Healthcare Centers v. Nessel. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Christian Healthcare Centers are asking the 6th Circuit to protect the ministry’s constitutional right to operate according to its faith.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and other state officials are responsible for enforcing Michigan’s civil rights laws. These laws threaten to force Christian Healthcare Centers to hire people who do not share their faith, to prescribe cross-sex hormones, and to use pronouns that do not accord with a person’s sex. The laws also prohibit Christian Healthcare Centers from explaining its religious reasons for these choices to the public. All of this violates the ministry’s religious beliefs and undermines its ability to provide safe healthcare to the needy and the rest of the community.

“Religious organizations should be free to operate and serve their communities according to their beliefs. Rather than respecting Christian Healthcare Centers’ religious motivations to provide quality care to all members of the community, Michigan state officials are threatening to punish the ministry for living out its faith,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “Christian Healthcare Centers should be free to operate and serve their community according to their beliefs. Allowing the government to compel a religious organization to violate its beliefs nullifies longstanding First Amendment protections.”

Christian Healthcare Centers is a nonprofit medical provider that offers high-quality healthcare to all of its members—including several members who identify as LGBT—while substantially reducing prices for patients with lower incomes who cannot afford quality care elsewhere.

Christian Healthcare Centers was founded to offer a distinctly Christian alternative to traditional primary care, focusing on meeting patients’ medical, emotional, and spiritual needs. To that end, the ministry hires staff who share its religious mission and provide medical care consistent with its religious beliefs.

“Religious faith is not an isolated compartment of life, but a broad worldview that intersects every square inch in the lives of adherents and the organizations they operate,” the Classical Christian Schools brief explains. “The promise of liberty requires broad religious protections, including the ministerial exception, in order to protect religious believers and their institutions. All Americans benefit when we enable the ordering of our lives around those principles most important to us without fear of backlash.”

“The uniquely difficult burden placed on religious minorities, in a world where their traditions are often completely foreign to the state emphasizes the importance of deference to religious minorities in their employment decisions based on the tenets of their faith,” states the brief from the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty and the Religious Freedom Institute’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team. “Refusing to allow deference greatly increases the odds that minority religious groups will be subjected to exactly what the Supreme Court feared in being forced to ‘engage in conduct that seriously violates [their] religious beliefs.’”

Christian Healthcare Centers also received friend-of-the-court support from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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ABOUT John Bursch

John Bursch is senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom. Bursch has argued 12 U.S. Supreme Court cases and more than 30 state supreme court cases since 2011, and a recent study concluded that among all frequent Supreme Court advocates who did not work for the federal government, he had the 3rd highest success rate for persuading justices to adopt his legal position. Bursch served as solicitor general for the state of Michigan from 2011-2013. He has argued multiple Michigan Supreme Court cases in eight of the last ten terms and has successfully litigated hundreds of matters nationwide, including six with at least $1 billion at stake. As part of his private firm, Bursch Law PLLC, he has represented Fortune 500 companies, foreign and domestic governments, top public officials, and industry associations in high-profile cases, primarily on appeal. He received his J.D. magna cum laude in 1997 from the University of Minnesota Law School and is admitted to practice in numerous federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.