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Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish v. Nessel

Description:  The Michigan Supreme Court reinterpreted the prohibition on sex discrimination in Michigan’s Civil Rights Act and penal code to include sexual orientation and gender identity. That change requires Grand Rapids-based Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and its school, Sacred Heart Academy, to hire faculty and staff who lead lives in direct opposition to the Catholic faith, speak messages that violate Church doctrine, and refrain from articulating Catholic beliefs in teaching its students and when advertising the school to prospective students or job applicants. Additionally, by preventing Sacred Heart from operating its school consistent with its beliefs, state officials are violating the rights of parents who specifically chose to send their children to Sacred Heart Academy because the school aligns with their values and religious beliefs.


Sacred Heart Academy in Grand Rapids
Thursday, Dec 22, 2022

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a Grand Rapids-based parish and Catholic school, and several of the school’s families, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Michigan officials for violating their freedom under the First Amendment to practice and teach their Catholic faith.

The Michigan Supreme Court recently reinterpreted the prohibition on sex discrimination in Michigan’s Civil Rights Act and penal code to include sexual orientation and gender identity. That change requires Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and its school, Sacred Heart Academy, to hire faculty and staff who lead lives in direct opposition to the Catholic faith, speak messages that violate Church doctrine, and refrain from articulating Catholic beliefs in teaching its students and when advertising the school to prospective students or job applicants. Additionally, by preventing Sacred Heart from operating its school consistent with its beliefs, state officials are violating the rights of parents—including the three families who have joined the lawsuit—who specifically chose to send their children to Sacred Heart Academy because the school aligns with their values and religious beliefs.

“Michigan officials are forcing Sacred Heart to make an unconstitutional and unconscionable choice: either cease teaching and practicing the Catholic faith or close their doors forever,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “Sacred Heart parish has faithfully served Grand Rapids families for more than a century, and its school provides a rich academic and spiritual environment for hundreds of children. The government should respect their constitutionally protected freedom to follow the very faith that has motivated them to serve their community.”

“No government official has the right to force a Catholic institution like Sacred Heart to affirm positions contrary to the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson, director of the ADF Center for Parental Rights. “The parents we represent in this case specifically opted out of public schools and instead chose to send their children to Sacred Heart Academy so that they could grow academically and spiritually in the Catholic faith. Every parent has the right to make the best education decision for their children, and the government can’t deprive parents of that fundamental freedom.”

Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish was founded more than a century ago by Polish immigrants. The parish-run academy exists to support parents in forming their children in the Catholic faith by providing a classical Catholic education and serves nearly 400 children from pre-K through 12th grade. The parents who joined the lawsuit all have children attending Sacred Heart Academy.

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish v. Nessel, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division.

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 Ryan Tucker

Ryan Tucker serves as senior counsel and director of the Center for Christian Ministries with Alliance Defending Freedom. He oversees all litigation efforts to maintain and defend the constitutionally protected freedom of churches, Christian ministries and religious schools to exercise their rights under the First Amendment. Prior to joining ADF, Tucker engaged in private practice for over 16 years with a litigation boutique law firm in San Antonio, Texas, eight of those as a partner. His portfolio included all aspects of civil litigation, both state and federal, with a particular focus on commercial and complex business disputes. Tucker earned his Juris Doctor at Baylor Law School, where he was a senior editor of the Baylor Law Review. He obtained his bachelor of business administration in management at Texas A&M University, where he graduated cum laude. A member of the state bar in Texas and Arizona, Tucker is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court and multiple federal district and appellate courts.

ABOUT Kate Anderson

Kate Anderson serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is the director of the Center for Parental Rights. Since joining ADF in 2015, Anderson has focused on protecting the conscience rights of individuals being unjustly compelled to forfeit their beliefs under threat of government retaliation, heavy fines, or other punishment. Prior to joining ADF, Anderson was an associate attorney with Ellis, Li & McKinstry, PLLC, in Seattle, where she litigated both civil and criminal cases. She obtained her law degree magna cum laude in 2009 from Gonzaga University School of Law, where she served on the Gonzaga Law Review. She is admitted to the state bars of Arizona and Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court, and several federal district and appellate courts.