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Catholic school, families sue Michigan officials for forcing them to violate their faith

ADF attorneys represent Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Grand Rapids, and three families in federal lawsuit

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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