In this update:
- Your Voice is Needed Today! Tell Gov. Whitmer to Veto Bills Restricting Free Speech for Counselors
- Items of Catholic Interest That Made it Into the State Budget
- U.S. Supreme Court Issues Two Big Wins for Religious Liberty
Your Voice is Needed Today! Tell Gov. Whitmer to Veto Bills Restricting Free Speech for Counselors
Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) is calling on Catholic Advocacy Network members like you to send a message urging the Governor to veto bills that restrict speech in counselor-patient settings and that pose an unnecessary threat to faith-based professional counselors, including those who work for Catholic Charities agencies in Catholic dioceses across the state.
With the Legislature having sent House Bills 4616 and 4617 on mostly partisan votes to the Governor, MCC has issued an action alert and a press release today to raise concerns about the legislation restricting free speech in counselor-patient settings and that it goes beyond its intended purpose of protecting children from abhorrent or coercive practices in counseling sessions.
“The language in these bills pose an unnecessary threat to professional counselors who meet clients where they are and listen and respond appropriately to shared thoughts and feelings, which lies at the very heart of the therapist/patient relationship,” said Kyle Rambo, Executive Director of Catholic Social Services of the Upper Peninsula, which provides behavioral health counseling to residents of the state in the areas of individual therapy, marriage counseling, family counseling, and grief counseling.
The bills would ban mental health professionals from using “any practice or treatment” that “seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” The prohibition applies to minor patients only, and bans “efforts to change behavior or gender expression or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward an individual of the same gender.”
The legislation goes on to state that “a mental health professional who violates this section is subject to disciplinary action and licensing sanctions.”
By banning “any practice or treatment,” the bill creates free speech restrictions that may well be unconstitutional and does so under the threat of punishment for counselors who work to meet their patients where they are at in their situations.
MCC is concerned the legislation enables faith-based therapists to be targeted and silenced for their beliefs about the nature of the human person and the differences between male and female.
Items of Catholic Interest That Made it Into the State Budget
State lawmakers last week unveiled the final spending plan for the next fiscal year and quickly sent it to the Governor for her review and approval.
For weeks, lawmakers and the Governor’s office have been working behind the scenes to put forth a final budget for the fiscal year that starts this October 1. The Governor has not yet signed the budget but is likely to do so. It is unknown if she will use her executive power to veto specific spending provisions.
The following is a rundown on the items of interest to the MCC that made it into the budget:
In this first budget in decades that was negotiated between a Democratic legislative majority and a Democratic governor, several existing spending programs for nonpublic schools still made the cut. Those provisions include:
- $18 million provided for nonpublic schools for school safety-related projects as well as mental health services.
- $3 million for nonpublic high school students to dual enroll in college courses and earn college credits.
- $1 million to reimburse nonpublic schools for the cost of complying with state health and safety mandates.
- $600,000 in grants for robotics teams for nonpublic schools.
There was also another $31 million provided for mental health services that is geared toward local school districts but can also be provided to local nonpublic school students upon request.
However, nonpublic schools were left out of funding opportunities for state programs that are designed to increase the number of teachers.
For instance, college students completing a student teacher assignment cannot receive a stipend under a state program if doing so in a nonpublic school. Also, college students receiving teaching degrees would only be able to obtain state-funded future teacher fellowship awards if they subsequently teach in public schools, but not nonpublic schools.
Nonpublic school students were also left out of an expansion of school lunch programs to provide breakfast and lunch to public students who do not qualify under federal income standards.
Mothers and Children
The finished budget kept $4.4 million in diaper assistance grants for diaper assistance programs, maternity homes, and other nonprofit agencies that distribute diapers free of charge, which will help mothers and families in need. The spending plan also included:
- $50,000 for the foster care closet, which allows local children and foster families in need to shop for — free of charge — clothing, shoes, toys, linens and more.
- Preservation of the foster care administrative rate paid out to foster care agencies such as Catholic Charities at not less than $55.20.
Serving the Poor and Vulnerable
Lawmakers increased by $2.8 million the annual back-to-school clothing allowance for eligible children in the Family Independence Program, bringing the allocation to $10 million total.
An additional three months of food assistance was funded for victims of domestic violence or human trafficking. The budget also eliminates the five-year eligibility waiting period for legal resident immigrants to obtain Medicaid coverage.
Other programs to help the poor and vulnerable in our state provided for in the budget include:
- $50,000 for caseworkers to provide immediate assistance to kids removed from dangerous environments, including victims of human trafficking.
- Preservation of $200,000 human trafficking intervention services and $170,000 for the Human Trafficking Commission fund.
- Preservation of the Heat/Eat program, which helps low-income residents, including the elderly and persons with disabilities, receive additional federal food assistance.
- Maintenance of the rate paid to homeless shelters at $19 per diem.
There were several funding provisions related to gun safety and suicide prevention, including funding to distribute gun safety equipment.
These items included $600,000 to create a state Office of Community Violence, which the budget stipulates can use funding to distribute trigger locks and gun safety boxes to households where a child is present, and education and outreach materials and services to interested private community organizations, firearm retailers, and operators of gun ranges related to suicide prevention.
Another $500,000 was provided to distribute gun safety equipment to public and law enforcement agencies. Additionally, budget language stipulates that certain state agencies can use funds appropriated for firearms safety to distribute gun safety equipment to the public and law enforcement agencies at no cost.
Lawmakers allocated $3 million to provide legal services, housing support, staffing, and outreach for foreign-born non-citizens in this state.
The budget allocates $50 million to, in part, expand access to affordable housing across the state.
There was also a $7 million grant allocated toward the Pope Francis Center in Detroit for a housing project. The center serves the homeless in Detroit by providing meals, supportive services, crisis response, and housing assistance, according to its website.
U.S. Supreme Court Issues Two Big Wins for Religious Liberty
The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued two rulings heralded as tremendous victories for preserving the First Amendment right to religious liberty for citizens of this country.
The first was a unanimous decision for a former U.S. postal worker who had been punished for seeking to fulfill the Third Commandment to honor the Sabbath by not working. The full court ruled in his favor in the case Groff v. DeJoy.
The chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, commented on the case by saying, “In so many ways today we see people of faith being told that they can only follow their religious beliefs in private or within the four walls of a church. But religious freedom means nothing if it does not extend to the public square. And the public square is better off when religion is welcome there.”
Shortly after that, the Supreme Court issued another ruling in favor of religious liberty in the 303 Creative v. Elenis case, which was decided in favor of website designer Lorie Smith, whose religious beliefs preclude her from creating websites celebrating same-sex ceremonies.
Cardinal Dolan also commented on this case, noting that, “this case was never about discrimination. It was about moral disagreement.” He added that Smith “is perfectly willing to design other kinds of websites for same-sex-attracted customers. In the same way, the ministries of the Church provide goods and loving care to everyone in direct need of assistance, no questions asked. Problems only arise when the government tries to force us to support, by our words or actions, behavior that we believe is wrong.”
USCCB offered amicus briefs in both the Groff case and the 303 Creative case.