For many parents, ensuring their children receive an education that aligns with their religious beliefs is a top priority.
Religious schools have the First Amendment right to operate according to their beliefs, and parents should be able to send their children to these schools with confidence about the education they will receive.
But a reinterpreted law in Michigan is threatening the ability of religious schools to provide an education that is consistent with their beliefs. For this reason, one Catholic school and three of its families are challenging the unconstitutional law in court.
What are Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and Sacred Heart Academy?
Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish is a Catholic community in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that was founded over a hundred years ago by Polish immigrants. Sacred Heart seeks to advance the Gospel by “instructing in the faith, bringing hope, and fostering charity.”
The parish also operates a K-12 school called Sacred Heart Academy. The school originally opened in 1905 and was re-founded in 2013 to add a classical component to the Catholic education it provides for students.
Consistent with Catholic teaching, Sacred Heart Academy instructs its students that all people are created in the image of God, male or female. And that core belief doesn’t just guide school teaching; it also informs school policy. It’s important for Sacred Heart to be able to hire faculty and staff who share its Catholic beliefs. But the reinterpretation of Michigan’s non-discrimination law threatens the school’s ability to teach and operate according to its faith.
Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and penal code was intended to ban discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics, such as sex. But in July 2022, the Michigan Supreme Court redefined “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity, unilaterally expanding the act’s application without legislative involvement.
For Sacred Heart, this new interpretation threatens its ability to operate according to its Catholic faith. The school has always taught that God created people in His image, either male or female, and that sex cannot be changed. In addition, it teaches that marriage can only be between one man and one woman.
These ideas are rooted in biblical truth, and they are deeply held beliefs within the Catholic faith. But Michigan’s reinterpreted law would force Sacred Heart Academy to deny these truths and violate its religious beliefs.
Michigan’s new interpretation of the law would also require teachers to deny scientific truths about human biology and violate their beliefs by referring to people with pronouns that are inconsistent with their sex.
Furthermore, the new interpretation would require Sacred Heart to hire faculty and staff who lead lives in direct opposition to the Catholic faith.
Parents who send their children to Sacred Heart Academy do so because they are seeking an education for their children that aligns with the Catholic faith. And many families make sacrifices in order to send their children to the school.
One family, for example, moved to Michigan from Indiana to send their children to Sacred Heart. But if Michigan’s law stands as interpreted, families like this one will no longer be able to ensure the religious education they want for their children.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and Sacred Heart Academy, including three families at the school, in December 2022 to protect their First Amendment Freedoms. The case is now awaiting hearing at a federal district court in Michigan.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and Sacred Heart Academy, including three families at the school, in December 2022 to protect their First Amendment freedoms and the parents’ freedom to direct their children’s upbringing and education. After an unfavorable ruling from a federal district court, ADF attorneys appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. That appeal is currently pending.
What’s at stake?
The First Amendment protects the freedom of religious schools to operate according to their beliefs, and it guarantees the right of parents to direct their children’s upbringing. If the redefined law stands in Michigan, the government will be able to violate both of these freedoms and force schools to teach the government’s preferred ideas.
A win for Sacred Heart would allow religious schools in Michigan to continue expressing their beliefs freely without interference from the government.
- July 2022: The Michigan Supreme Court reinterpreted Michigan’s non-discrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It did not provide exemptions for religious institutions seeking to operate according to their beliefs.
- December 2022: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sacred Heart, including three families with children at the school.
- August 2023: ADF attorneys filed a notice of appeal to the 6th Circuit.
The bottom line
Religious schools should be free to operate according to their beliefs without government interference.