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6th Circuit to hear case of MI Catholic school faced with violating its faith or shutting down

ADF attorneys available for media interviews following oral arguments Tuesday

Monday, Jun 10, 2024

WHO:  Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys

WHAT:  Available for media interviews following oral arguments in Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish v. Nessel

WHEN:  Immediately following hearing, which begins at 1 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, June 11

WHERE:  U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, 100 E. 5th St., Cincinnati. To schedule an interview, contact ADF Media Relations Specialist Hattie Troutman at (771) 200-7630.

CINCINNATI – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a Grand Rapids–based parish and Catholic school and several of its families will be available for media interviews following oral arguments Tuesday at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish v. Nessel, a case that seeks to protect the school’s constitutionally protected freedom to operate as a religious school.

The Michigan Legislature amended the Michigan Civil Rights Act to cover sexual orientation and gender identity but provided no protection for religious organizations that believe marriage is between one man and one woman and that the immutability of sex irrefutably supports human flourishing. 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. The amendment also threatens 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.

“The Constitution is clear: Religious schools are free to operate according to their beliefs,” said ADF Legal Counsel Cody Barnett, who will be arguing before the court. “A federal district court—as well as the U.S. Supreme Court—have concluded that government officials can’t target faith-based organizations simply for adhering to their religious beliefs. Michigan is forcing Sacred Heart to make an impossible choice between teaching and practicing the Catholic faith or closing their doors forever—all while denying parents the right to direct the upbringing and education of their children. The 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. We are urging the 6th Circuit to allow their lawsuit to continue so they can take steps toward serving their community without fear of government punishment.”

Polish immigrants founded Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish more than a century ago. The parish-run academy exists to support parents by providing their children with 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.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish appealed to the 6th Circuit in November and received broad support from a diverse range of faith-based groups.

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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