New York Targeted Adoption Provider New Hope Family Services for Its Religious Beliefs
Update: March 7, 2023 – New York state officials have agreed to pay $250,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs after trying to shut down New Hope Family Services because of its religious beliefs. Meanwhile, the state continues to target the adoption provider through a different agency. Read the press release.
There are more than 400,000 children in the foster care system nationwide—including over 25,000 children in the state of New York alone.
You would think that government agencies would want as many adoption providers as possible working to find homes for these children. Yet in some states, government officials have attempted to shut down adoption providers because of their religious beliefs about what constitutes the best home for a child.
New Hope Family Services in upstate New York is one of these providers. Read about its case below.
Who is New Hope Family Services?
The Apostle James urged Christians “to look after the orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). Christians throughout history have always taken care of children in need of a home. In America, one of the first orphanages was founded before the Revolutionary War by a Christian preacher.
New Hope Family Services has continued this tradition for over 50 years.
New Hope is an “arm-around-the-shoulder” ministry committed to meeting the needs of every life touched by adoption.
This adoption agency provides adoption planning and placement while remaining committed to helping prepare adoptive parents for their unique responsibilities. The organization also has a pregnancy center that offers pregnancy tests, medical referrals, and counseling.
New Hope Family Services provides all these services through generous donors and does not receive any public funding.
New Hope is committed to walking with adoptive families and birth parents alike to place children with adoptive families. And it has done so with excellence.
In the fall of 2018, the New York Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) recognized New Hope’s high standards in a review, writing in a letter that the organization “had a number of strengths in providing adoption services.”
But then something changed.
New Hope Family Services v. Poole
Just months after the OCFS gave New Hope Family Services a positive review, the agency changed course, calling one of the organization’s policies “discriminatory and impermissible.”
Had New Hope changed any of its policies since the favorable review? No. But New Hope is a Christian nonprofit, and its faith teaches it that the best environment for children is in a home with a married mom and dad. For that reason, New Hope does not place children for adoption with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples.
Instead, the organization will refer them to one of the other approximately 130 adoption providers in New York—the vast majority of which will place children with any individual who is legally eligible.
New Hope’s decision to care for children according to its faith was too much for the OCFS. Despite its previous favorable review of New Hope, the agency issued the adoption provider an ultimatum: violate its religious beliefs or close its adoption services. The OCFS took this position even though New Hope receives no public funding.
While a district court ruled against New Hope, dismissing its case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit issued an emergency order allowing New Hope to keep its doors open.
The 2nd Circuit then ruled in favor of the adoption provider, and the district court later issued a temporary ruling (a "temporary injunction") that New York could not revoke New Hope’s authorization to place children for adoption while the lawsuit against the state proceeded.
Now, the district court has made that order final. And in March 2023, state officials agreed to pay $250,000 in attorney's fees and costs in a settlement.
In the meantime, however, the state has responded by attacking New Hope from another side.
New Hope Family Services v. James
Nearly three years after New Hope Family Services first wound up in court, the adoption provider was forced to file a second federal lawsuit against New York. This time, it was the New York Division of Human Rights that had threatened to investigate and penalize New Hope—for exactly the same beliefs and policies.
Even though both the district court and the 2nd Circuit had already found that the state violates New Hope’s First Amendment rights by attempting to force it to place children in a manner inconsistent with its religious beliefs, state officials targeted the adoption provider once more.
Faith-based adoption providers should not be punished for their religious beliefs. And children should not be deprived of forever homes because government bureaucrats disfavor religious organizations that believe children benefit from having a married mom and dad.
- December 2018: New Hope Family Services filed a complaint against the OCFS in federal district court.
- May 2019: The district court ruled against New Hope and dismissed the case.
- November 2019: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit issued an emergency order allowing New Hope to keep its doors open and continue serving families and children while its appeal is being considered. The 2nd Circuit then heard oral arguments in New Hope’s case.
- July 2020: The 2nd Circuit ruled in favor of New Hope by reversing the district court’s decision to dismiss the case. The case was then sent back to the district court for further proceedings
- October 2020: The district court ruled that the state of New York may not revoke New Hope’s authorization to place children for adoption while the adoption provider’s lawsuit against the state proceeds.
- September 2021: ADF attorneys representing New Hope filed a second lawsuit (James) in federal district court after the New York Division of Human Rights threatened to investigate and penalize the adoption provider for the same beliefs and policy.
- October 2021: ADF attorneys filed a motion for preliminary injunction in the James case, asking the court to protect New Hope from New York's harassment while the lawsuit proceeds.
- September 2022: A federal district court issued an order in Poole permanently preventing the state of New York from shutting down New Hope for its religious beliefs.
- March 2023: New York state officials agreed to pay $250,000 in attorney's fees and costs in a settlement of Poole.
- Currently: The parties are briefing whether the final decision in Poole means that the district court should grant a similar injunction in James.
Learn more about New Hope's case:
Why you should care about protecting New Hope Family Services and other religious adoption providers:
One family’s story of working with New Hope:
ADF team members contributed to the writing and publication of this article.