TRENTON, N.J. – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled in favor of a New Jersey couple seeking to protect their right to care for foster children without hiding their religious beliefs about family, marriage, and sex. The decision allows Michael and Jennifer Lasche to continue their case and defend their rights in the lower court. The appellate court also affirmed, based on allegations in the complaint, that taking away the Lasches’ foster license simply because they shared their religious beliefs with a foster child violates constitutionally protected freedoms.
The couple filed a lawsuit against the state of New Jersey after the state’s child welfare agency removed their foster child and suspended their license after repeatedly interrogating the Lasches and the foster child about their religious beliefs about human sexuality. Michael P. Laffey, one of more than 3,500 attorneys allied with Alliance Defending Freedom, represents the Lasches in Lasche v. State of New Jersey. The case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit after the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed the case.
“The government cannot punish the Lasches—or any other American—simply because it disagrees with their religious views,” said Laffey. “Michael and Jennifer are wonderful foster parents, and the child entrusted to them thrived under their loving care. And even though the foster child wanted to be a part of the couple’s religious life, the state sought to punish them for their Christian faith. We are pleased to see the 3rd Circuit affirm that they can continue fighting for their fundamental right to exercise their religious beliefs.”
“The Constitution protects Michael and Jennifer’s freedom to peacefully live out their religious beliefs in every area of life, including in the wonderful service they are providing as foster parents to children in need,” added ADF Legal Counsel Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse.
The Lasches, who have served as foster parents for more than 10 years, sued New Jersey state officials for violating their First Amendment right to religious freedom. Although the Lasches had hoped to adopt their foster child, New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency removed the child and suspended their foster care license after officials expressed that their “religious beliefs were a problem.”
In its opinion, the 3rd Circuit stated that through the free exercise clause, “the First Amendment secures the ‘freedom to believe and [the] freedom to act.’ Consistent with that protection, the Lasches allege two forms of constitutionally protected activity—one involving religious belief, and the other, action inspired by religious belief. With respect to belief, the Lasches identify their religious opposition to same-sex marriage as constitutionally protected. That is correct: the Free Exercise Clause provides an absolute right to hold religious beliefs.” The court also stated that the couple “plausibly allege[d] that they engaged in constitutionally protected conduct by sharing their religious views on same-sex marriage.”
- Pronunciation guide: Widmalm-Delphonse (VEED'-malm Del-FONS'); Lasche (LASH'-ee)
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.
# # #