Catholic parishes’ lawsuits challenging ELCRA dismissed by federal judge ⋆

Two lawsuits filed by two Catholic parishes asserting that changes made this year to Michigan’s civil rights laws to include protections against discrimination for LGBTQ+ residents violate First Amendment religious freedoms were dismissed this week by a federal judge.

Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, or ELCRA, was amended in March to include protections against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, a move celebrated by LGBTQ+ stakeholders in the state. At the same time, the change was met with outcry from some businesses and religious organizations claiming the expansion violated religious freedoms.

Separate lawsuits from Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Grand Rapids and St. Joseph Catholic Church in St. Johns were dismissed Tuesday by Michigan Federal Judge Jane Beckering. In her opinions, Beckering said ELCRA does not fail to address protections for religious beliefs and neither organization presented a credible threat that the law’s expansion will cause them harm.

In the opinions issued by Beckering, the judge outlined that both schools said all members of staff are required to subscribe to the Catholic faith and not teach or model in their own lives any behaviors outside of the faith, including those outside of heterosexual identities, relationships and marriages.

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The opinion in the St. Joseph case said the school asserted that “the risk of liability” against ELCRA has kept the school from hiring or expanding services. The school also said it has concerns about renting out its facilities and being held liable for upholding its views on relationships and gender identities.

The opinion in the Sacred Heart case said the school will “not grant or assent to any requests for ‘special treatment by students, employees, or others based on transgender or other LGBTQ ideologies.’” Rather than “operate a school inconsistent with the Church’s faith and doctrine,” the school would shut down.

Beckering made note that employers can and have within Michigan applied for religious exemptions asserting that religion is a bona fide occupational qualification, or BFOQ, to operate within the business. In both cases, the schools conceded that they have not sought a BFOQ exemption and neither entity could identify a case in Michigan where a religious employer meeting the criteria for a BFOQ was prohibited from communicating religious stipulations for employment.

Also on Tuesday, Beckering denied reconsideration for her dismissal of a case brought by Christian Healthcare Centers, a faith-based medical service provider in Grand Rapids and Newaygo.

In March, Beckering dismissed the case from the health care provider which said ELCRA violates its right to pursue its Christian mission of only hiring Christian staff, refusing to provide gender transitioning treatments and abstaining from using preferred pronouns for patients.

All three lawsuits named Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel as a defendant in the case. Nessel said in a news release Wednesday that she was pleased that “cases…unsupported by facts” were recognized as such by the judge.

“Under Michigan law, religious freedoms are already taken into consideration under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act when assessing discrimination claims,” Nessel said. “Our state’s residents can rest assured that Michigan’s recently enacted protections for the LGBTQ+ community will be enforced to the fullest extent as the constitution permits.”



authored by Anna Liz Nichols
First published at

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