Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday on behalf of Christian Healthcare Centers (CHC) alleging that Michigan’s civil rights law violates its right to operate according to its religious beliefs, including hiring only those who shared its faith and refusing to provide gender-affirming medications and treatments.
In 2018 the Michigan Civil Rights Commission authorized the Department of Civil Rights to investigate complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which led to lawsuits from two Christian businesses. Last month, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the businesses violated the state’s discrimination law by refusing to host a same-sex wedding and perform laser hair removal on a male identifying as female.
“Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily constitutes discrimination because of sex,” the court wrote. “Accordingly, the denial of ‘the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation or public service’ on the basis of sexual orientation constitutes discrimination ‘because of . . . sex.’”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, D, the state’s first gay politician, said, “Michiganders deserve to live in a state that recognizes the value of diversity & rejects the notion that our own civil rights law could be used as a tool of discrimination. This ruling is a victory for the LGBTQ+ community, for all MI residents, & one that’s long overdue.”
In response, ADF preemptively filed suit against Nessel and other Michigan officials in the U.S. District Court for Western Michigan, Southern Division, on behalf of CHC. The complaint alleges that Michigan’s civil rights law threatens the non-profits’ ability to operate according to its religious mission. Christian Healthcare Centers is actually a Christian ministry that provides medical care at a significantly reduced cost. Patients don’t pay for visits or services but instead sign up for memberships at a rate far cheaper than the cost of insurance or typical services. This allows the patient to visit as many times as needed and obtain services for a low monthly fee. CHC also provides a MemberCare Assistance Program that discounts or eliminates cost based on household income.
CHC does this because of its religious beliefs. Unlike traditional healthcare operations, which provide impersonal, efficient, businesslike care, CHC’s mission is to holistically care for the physical, spiritual, and emotional health of each patient, spending 30 minutes or even an hour with each patient. Medical professionals also pray with patients and discuss spiritual effects on their health.
The ministry’s motto is Jeremiah 17:8, which says, “They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” CHC’s logo reflects this verse, and its core beliefs and values are communicated to employees and patients in the following graphic:
Despite its provision of biblical counseling, the nonprofit is likely to be defined under Michigan’s civil rights law as a public accommodation rather than a ministry. According to the suit, the Michigan law defines public accommodation as any business offering or providing goods, services, privileges, or advantages to the public. That includes health facilities and “a tax exempt private agency established to provide service to the public.” CHC has two locations and is looking to expand.
However, the ministry claims that Michigan requires it to adhere to the civil rights law, which would mean using transgender pronouns and providing transgender-affirming treatments. The law also bars CHC from hiring based on its religious beliefs, issuing any communications denoting its religious beliefs, or requiring employees to adhere to its Religious Statements.
The lawsuit claims that the law violates CHC’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and opens it up to punishment, including fines and/or imprisonment and damages for supposed mental anguish if it continues to operate according to its Christian beliefs.
John Bursch, ADF senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy, said, “Christian Healthcare Centers should be free to continue its vibrant outreach to the community through its low-cost, high-quality medical care. It’s unconstitutional for the state to require that this Christian ministry abandon its faith principles in order to continue serving those in need.”
Hal Frampton, ADF senior counsel, said, “Christian Healthcare Centers serves everybody with compassionate care and respect, including patients who identify as the opposite of their biological sex, providing them with the same high-quality care it provides to all of its patients. Yet this lawsuit is necessary to protect Christian Healthcare Centers’ constitutional rights and to ensure other religious organizations can freely operate according to the dictates of their faith.”
This is the danger of so-called non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity in a radical reinterpretation of “sex.” Numerous business owners have been taken to court simply for exercising their religious beliefs and continue to be persecuted for their faith with laws such as these.
Christian Healthcare Centers is not even a business, but a nonprofit that should obviously be viewed as a ministry with a religious purpose. They do not refuse service to anyone, including homosexual or transgender patients; they simply refuse to violate their beliefs by affirming gender ideology or engaging in experimental procedures that violate their religious views and harm patients.
Radical politicians want all religious Americans to keep their faith quiet and to adopt the secular views of the state. If this clinic is forced to either violate its beliefs or close its doors, Americans will lose. It is imperative that courts rule to protect religious Americans from being forced to violate their convictions.
God calls Christians to love others and care for them, but never to endorse or aid them in sin. God also calls Christians to honor their conscience rather than violate it. It isn’t loving to encourage sin and enable its consequences (James 5:20). Christians are ambassadors with a message of grace and that grace is free, but it is grace that demands a recognition that sin is wrong and it is destructive. Christians must always stand on the Bible rather than capitulating to culture.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.