Dana Nessel adopts Trump defense in heated LGBT Michigan adoption case

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel argued U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker erred when citing comments she made as a private citizen to suggest she harbors religious hostility toward a Catholic adoption agency. (Bridge file photo by Riley Beggin)

LANSING — Outspoken Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is taking a page out of President Donald Trump’s book by asking a federal judge to ignore her past rhetoric and suspend his recent religious freedom ruling in a contentious same-sex adoption case. 

In an emergency motion filed Friday, Nessel argued U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker erred when citing comments she made as a private citizen to suggest she harbors religious hostility toward a Catholic adoption agency that receives state funding but declines to place children with gay or transgender parents. 

Jonker, who last month issued a preliminary injunction preventing the state from terminating or suspending contracts with St. Vincent Catholic Charities, said Nessel’s past comments “raise a strong inference of a hostility toward a religious viewpoint.”

Three years before winning election as a progressive Democrat, Nessel called a 2015 religious exemption bill ultimately adopted by the Republican-led state Legislature a “win for the hatemonger” but a disaster for children in need of foster or adoptive parents. 

Nessel, a private attorney who was representing a lesbian couple in a separate case that helped overturn Michgian’s gay marriage ban, also said proponents of the adoption legislation should concede “you dislike gay people more than you care about the needs of foster care kids.”

Jonker pointed to those and other comments by Nessel in his ruling that allowed St. Vincent Catholic Charities to continue its practice of declining to work with gay parents. He accused Nessel of a “targeted attack on a sincerely held religious belief.”

But Nessel adopted a Trump defense on Friday as she urged Jonker to suspend his ruling while she and the state Department of Health and Human Services appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

The U.S. Supreme Court in June 2018 upheld a federal travel ban Trump enacted through executive order, ruling the policy itself was religiously “neutral” despite Trump’s repeated campaign claims he would pursue a temporary ban specifically targeting Muslims. 

Before taking office, Trump had called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our county’s representatives can figure out what is going on” and claimed that “Islam hates us.” 

Despite those comments, Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued the president had made it “crystal clear” the enacted policy was not a Muslim travel ban.

The nation’s highest court, in a 5-4 opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, said the president’s policy — the third iteration that restricted travel to the United States from seven countries, five of which have Muslim majorities — was religiously neutral and served a genuine national security interest given concerns over vetting. 

Nessel blasted that ruling last year but quoted Roberts in her Friday filing, arguing her comments on the faith-based adoption law “had even less significance” on the state’s non-discrimination policy than Trump’s statements about the travel ban.

“A federal court’s role is not to denounce an official’s statements but, instead, to ‘consider the significance of those statements in reviewing a . . . directive, neutral on its face,’” she wrote. “In its Opinion, this Court did what the Supreme Court said it cannot do. “

The high court’s decision in Trump v. Hawaii makes clear that her comments on the 2015 GOP law “have no relevance here,” wrote Nessel, who is a consistent Trump critic, opposed his travel ban and has joined several lawsuits challenging many of his most controversial policies.

The 2015 law allowed faith-based agencies that receive state funding to decline referrals for prospective gay, lesbian or transgender parents if working with them would conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs. Instead they must refer parents to another agency or direct them to a list of other available options.

Nessel settled a suit over that law in March, making clear that non-discrimination clauses in state contracts with adoption or foster agencies preclude them from turning away otherwise qualified gay, lesbian or transgender parents or refusing to perform home studies. 

St. Vincent sued in April, arguing the settlement created a new policy that forced the agency to violate its religious principles or close foster care and adoption programs.

Jonker agreed. 

“What St. Vincent has not done and will not do is give up its traditional Catholic belief that marriage as instituted by God is for one man and one woman,” wrote the West Michigan judge, who was appointed by Republican former President George W. Bush.

The Michigan Catholic Conference praised Jonker’s decision, calling it an “excellent opinion.” Becket Law, a religious liberty legal group representing St. Vincent in the case, said the ruling “ensures that faith-based agencies can continue working with the state to find more homes for foster children.”

But Nessel’s office said Friday that Jonker wrongly accused the attorney general of being anti-Catholic. Her past statements did not target religion, nor does the non-discrimination clause in the standard contract for child placement agencies, her filing argued. 

“Children who are wards of this state deserve families who love and respect them; they need and deserve forever families – not hostile court battles and rhetoric that overshadows the very purpose of this case,” Nessel said in a statement.  

“Judge Jonker’s comments unnecessarily inflamed an issue that at its core is about adhering to contractual obligations with the state; nothing more and nothing less.”

Nessel is seeking “expedited” consideration of her request to suspend Jonker’s ruling pending resolution of an appeal. The judge gave St. Vincent until Oct. 21 to respond.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Gary Lea
Sun, 10/13/2019 - 7:30am

Adoption is the issue, not indoctrination; Catholic priests have abused children despite "a sincerely held religious belief."

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 9:34am

To say that she adopted a Trump defense is just sensationalism. I'm very disappointed in the Bridge for resorting to that type of tactic. I would expect better from you.

Marni H.
Mon, 10/14/2019 - 5:20pm

I completely agree with you. There was absolutely no reason to add that concept into it; the comparison was an insult to Ms. Nessel and the readers. Tsk, tsk.

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 9:51am

It is so obvious that this judge is a member of the West Michigan Jahad that is based on the the concept of a theocracy of ultra Calvinism. He is t he type of idiot who believes his wacko ill based religious beliefs are more important the Constitution and that the government should be run on his narrow minded and very limited mental vision. He does not believe in the 1st Amendment.

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 12:21pm

Politicians such as Schutte and Nessel with strong pro or con religious beliefs should not be in elected positions of authority. The Constitution was very clear on freedom of religion.

middle of the mit
Wed, 10/16/2019 - 1:08am

As a semi-religious person, I find this decision contemporaneous. Why did I choose that word?

There is a separation of Church and State. The reason for that separation is so that one can not be corrupted by the other.

I have no problem with religious institutions being involved in adoption. But since adoption is a function of the State, and those religious institutions want the States money to help them even though they are tax free, upsets a little. Why? What are Churches doing with their tax free funds that they can't help those who are in need without taxpayer funds?

If the Churches today were run like the Churches in Jesus time? They would be called commies! Where do you think communes come from?


But that doesn't go where I want it to.


The Believers Share Their Possessions

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.]]

Would any of you join that Church?

H E double hockey sticks NO, you wouldn't!

What this boils down to is whether or not the AG is doing her job. Is she? YES she is!

How or why? She is responsible for representing all of MI citizens.

And as a semi-religious person, I find it problematic when religion tries to use the State to enforce it's laws on the populace. Why? Because religion doesn't like it when the State cracks down on them, why should they like it when the State cracks down for them? Especially when all they need to do is be a sheep nation instead of a goat nation.


[[31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.]]

Are you going to tell me that is up for interpretation? How do you interpret it?

And if you don't think that Americans are above reproach, ask Matt. Ridicule is one way that Americans show their children what not to be!

Who would ever ridicule others for not being like them? Not law abiding Americans! There is no gimp, there is no limp. But we will hammer those who are gay!

Or will you do it to everyone that isn't like you?

You who have a moral superiority, think that you are above reproach. You better check out what Ezekiel had to say about Sodom and Gomorrah.


[[Ezekiel 16:49-50 The Message (MSG)

49-50 “‘The sin of your sister Sodom was this: She lived with her daughters in the lap of luxury—proud, gluttonous, and lazy. They ignored the oppressed and the poor. They put on airs and lived obscene lives. And you know what happened: I did away with them.]]

The problem with what you have "interpreted" is this; What those people wanted to do the "strangers in their land" was that they wanted to rape them. Non consensual relations. Do you understand that? Also, God sent those messengers to DESTROY the land. BEFORE they even encountered those evil people.

Why did he send his angels to destroy Sodom in the first place? Ezekiel told you why. Will you accept it?

And what does it matter if two loving people want to adopt a child? Does it matter what sexual preference they have? What if you chose a straight couple and one is a drunk? An angry drunk? What if the child ends up feeling gay?

Should the State still "subsidize" your affiliation? Even though you won't follow through with your end of the bargain even though you received taxpayer money for your services?

There is reason for the separation of Church and State. So that the State doesn't corrupt the Church and the Church doesn't corrupt the State.

And if the Church wants to keep tax free they shouldn't be asking the State for money or help in any way.

God will always make sure you have what you need if you are following HIM.

Why are you begging the nanny state that you despise for more money?