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NEWS DIGEST: Adoption agencies’ religious liberty upheld; China claims U.S. ‘interference’ in Olympics

Michigan settlement affirms religious liberty for adoption agencies

By David Eggert

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Faith-based adoption agencies that contract with the state of Michigan can operate in accordance with their religious beliefs under a proposed settlement filed in federal court Tuesday, months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for a Catholic charity in a similar case.

In 2019, Lansing-based St. Vincent Catholic Charities sued the state, challenging a deal Attorney General Dana Nessel announced to resolve an earlier lawsuit brought against the state by lesbian couples who said they were turned away by faith-based agencies.

That agreement said a 2015 Republican-backed law letting child-placement agencies deny services that conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs does not apply if they are under contract with the state.

“We believe this agreement advances the common good, benefits Michigan’s vulnerable children, and upholds the constitutional right to religious liberty that is a cornerstone of our state and nation,” said David Maluchnik, spokesperson for the Michigan Catholic Conference.

Michigan, like most states, contracts with private agencies to place children from troubled homes with new families.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker in Grand Rapids blocked the attorney general’s deal prohibiting faith-based agencies from excluding same-sex couples from services – saying her action conflicted with state law, contracts and established practice. Settlement talks began after the Supreme Court in June said Philadelphia wrongly limited its relationship with a Catholic foster care agency that says its religious views prevent it from working with gay couples.

Under the preliminary settlement, Michigan cannot terminate or block renewal of St. Vincent’s contracts because the agency does not approve a same-sex or unmarried couple as foster or adoptive parents, place a foster child with them or conduct a home evaluation. The state must pay St. Vincent $550,000 for attorney fees and costs.

The deal still needs the judge’s approval.

China demands U.S. halt Olympics ‘interference’

By Associated Press Staff

BEIJING (AP) – China is demanding the U.S. end “interference” in the Beijing Winter Olympics, which begin next week, in an apparent reference to a diplomatic boycott imposed by Washington and some of its allies.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the demand in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday Beijing time, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The U.S. has said it will not send dignitaries to the Games, which open Feb. 4, in a protest over China’s detention of more than 1 million Uyghur Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, along with crackdowns on human rights elsewhere in the country.

The boycott does not prevent U.S. athletes from taking part in the Games, which are being held under strict anti-pandemic rules. China has also protested what it says are calls within the State Department to withdraw staff and their dependents from the embassy and consulates around China over the tightening restrictions.

According to a news release posted on the ministry’s website Thursday (Jan. 27), Wang also called for an end to U.S. support for self-governing Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory.

China’s growing assertiveness directed at the U.S. has extended as far as relations with Central American nations and as close as Beijing’s maritime claims in the South and East China Seas.

At a monthly briefing Thursday, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian responded to a question about U.S. military movements in the Asia-Pacific region by saying China’s armed forces were “fully prepared to deal with any foreign provocations or emergency situations” that arise during the Olympics.

The U.S. says it doesn’t recognize most of China’s claims in the strategically crucial South China Sea and routinely sails warships and flies planes near Chinese-held islands.

Foreign Minister Wang also complained that the administration of President Joe Biden has maintained tough political and economic policies enacted earlier despite its expressed wishes for a less confrontational relationship.

“The U.S. continuously puts forward wrong words and actions toward China, causing new conflicts in relations between the two countries,” Wang was quoted as saying.

A brief statement from the State Department said that Blinken and Wang exchanged views on how to manage strategic risk, health security and climate change. It did not mention the Olympics or Taiwan. Blinken underscored the economic and security risks posed by Russian aggression against Ukraine, the statement said.

The phone call follows the appointment of veteran diplomat Nicholas Burns as the new U.S. ambassador to China, a position that has remained empty for more than a year.

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