March 2019 Church & State Magazine - March 2019

Michigan Attorney General Pulls Out Of Church-State Cases

  Rob Boston

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in January directed her office to withdraw from eight cases that are pending in the federal courts, including three that affect separation of church and state.

Nessel, a Democrat who was elected in November, replaced Republican Bill Schuette, who took conservative stands on several issues. Under Schuette, the state attorney general’s office had filed briefs in several cases dealing with church-state separation, reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights, in each case taking stands favorable to the Religious Right.

Nessel said she plans to change the state’s position on these issues.

“As Michigan’s Attorney General, I will not use this office to undermine some of the most important values in our state, including those involving reproductive rights and the separation of church and state,” Nessel said. Her office filed legal documents making it clear that each of those briefs filed when Schuette was in charge “no longer represents the legal position of the State of Michigan.”

The three church-state cases are Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Lehigh, which deals with a challenge to a cross on a Pennsylvania county’s official seal; Gaylor v Mnuchin, which concerns a housing tax break extended to clergy; and Barker v Conroy, which challenges the U.S. Congress’ policy of excluding non-believers from offering guest invocations.

Of the five remaining cases, Nessel said four of them would limit women’s reproductive rights and one would allow discrimination against LGBTQ people.

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