Press Release

Catholic parish stands up for its religious mission in court St. Joseph asks court to protect church & school’s Catholic identity from Michigan politicians

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

WASHINGTON – A Catholic parish in Michigan will be in federal appeals court next week to protect its ability to guide its church and school community without asking for permission from state officials. In St. Joseph Parish v. Nessel, the parish, with Becket’s help, challenged a state law that makes it illegal for St. Joseph to hire staff who agree to uphold its religious beliefs and bars it from maintaining a church and school environment that reflects its faith. After a lower court dismissed the case last year, St. Joseph is asking the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to allow it to run its parish and school activities consistent with its Catholic beliefs. 

Since 1857, St. Joseph Catholic Church has served the local Catholic community of St. Johns, Michigan, as the only Catholic parish in town. In 1924, St. Joseph expanded and opened an elementary school—St. Joseph Catholic School—to provide families in the area with a Catholic education rooted in the teachings of the Church. Like many religious schools, St. Joseph hires teachers and staff who support and advance the Catholic faith. St. Joseph also asks all staff—from kindergarten teachers to part-time bookkeepers—to be practicing Catholics and to uphold the faith. St. Joseph also follows Catholic teaching on issues like pronouns and separate girls’ and boys’ bathrooms and locker rooms.  

Michigan recently revised its civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity, without any protection for religious organizations like St. Joseph. Michigan doesn’t deny that it could punish St. Joseph simply for following its faith. Instead, Michigan told St. Joseph it now must ask permission from the state’s Civil Rights Commission every time it wants to ask Catholic employees to follow Catholic teaching. Meanwhile, St. Joseph risks being sued in all its public activities—at the parish, the school, and its services to the community—simply for upholding Catholic teaching.   

Oral Argument in St. Joseph Parish v. Nessel

Arguing before the court:
William Haun, senior counsel at Becket

Tuesday, June 11, 2024, at approximately 2 p.m. ET

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Potter Stewart U.S. Court House, 100 East Fifth Street, 4th Floor
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Becket attorneys will be available for comment following the hearing. 

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby atmedia@becketlaw.orgor 202-349-7219.