A Sangamon County judge ruled July 12 that Catholic Charities of the Springfield, Joliet and Peoria diocese may continue to serve children in their foster care and adoption services program.
In the ruling, Judge John Schmidt said the order is temporary until a hearing scheduled for August [17th].
The state of Illinois June 11 had notified Catholic Charities in the Springfield, Joliet, Belleville and Peoria dioceses that they are no longer eligible for state foster care and adoption services contracts.
The Department of Children and Family services notified the Catholic Charities agencies July 8 that current contracts with the state would not be renewed for the new fiscal year.
“Your agency has made it clear that it does not intend to comply with the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act,” DCFS said in the notice. “That law applies to foster care and adoption services. Thus, there is no meeting of the minds as to the FY12 Foster Care and Adoption Contracts.”
The law legalizing civil unions in Illinois went into effect June 1. Catholic Charities of the Springfield, Joliet and Peoria dioceses filed the suit in Sangamon County Circuit Court June 7 to ask for a legal declaration confirming that Illinois law protects the right of Catholic agencies not to place children with unmarried, cohabiting individuals.
The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a union, instituted by God, between one man and one woman and that sex ual activity outside of marriage is contrary to God’s law. The long-standing practice of Catholic Charities has been to place children with married or single, non-cohabiting persons only. Non-married cohabiting couples were referred to other agencies [Note: they were not refused services, but referred to other agencies].
In a July 12 statement, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Springfield diocese said, “For the sake of the children in our Catholic Charities Foster Care program, I am grateful that Judge John Schmidt of the Circuit Court of Sangamon County has issued a preliminary injunction freezing the State’s contract with Catholic Charities as it was before the State decided to cut it off earlier this month.
“It is tragic that some State officials are moving to push Catholic Charities out of foster care and adoption services by refusing to contract with us. Contrary to statements of certain government officials, the practices of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois fully comply with the new Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, which includes a provision that says, “Nothing in this Act shall interfere with or regulate the religious practice of any religious body,” Bishop Paprocki’s statement continued. “It is the State of Illinois that is violating this provision of the law by seeking to force us to act against our religious beliefs. If these services of religious organizations like Catholic Charities are terminated, it would be the children who would suffer because some politicians have put their political agenda ahead of the best interest of the children, who have been served by the top-quality, nurturing care of Catholic Charities since 1921.”
“We pray for a final outcome of this case that will allow Catholic Charities to continue to provide a faith-based approach to foster care and adoption services in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services,” the bishop’s statement concluded.
Steven Roach, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Springfield diocese, said the issue at hand is whether or not the religious protections included in the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act extends to programs of Catholic Charities and other faith based organizations.
“The state’s position is that the only religious protection in the new law relates to not forcing churches to perform religious ceremonies for same-sex couples,” Roach said. “This is a ridiculous argument because no law could ever be passed that could force a church to perform any kind of religious ceremony — that is already constitutionally prohibited. It’s a bit like selling someone a car and telling them you will throw in the steering wheel.
“If the state argues that this is the only religious protection in the new law then they are arguing that in fact there are no religious protections in the new law despite its title,” Roach said.
Roach said that Catholic Charities will argue that the real religious protection in the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act is explicitly spelled out in the Senate record.
Roach said that during the debate the bill’s sponsor (Senator David Koehler, D-Peoria) was directly asked if religiously sponsored organizations such as Catholic Charities providing social services are protected from any interference or regulation from the implementation of this new law.
“A definitive, affirmative answer was given by Sen. Koehler who stressed the intent of the bill in no way was meant to negatively impact the activities of religious organizations,” Roach said. “Terminating decades-old contracts with Catholic Charities is certainly a negative impact.”
Roach said he believes the state is basing its actions on a belief that completely ignores the religious protection intent of the new law.
“We vehemently disagree for obvious reasons and that is why we are in court,” Roach said. “The state prematurely decided to terminate contracts with Catholic Charities because it believes our desire to place children in the homes of only married couples and single non-cohabitating individuals is in violation of the new law.
“However, if the court finds Catholic Charities is not in violation of the new law (as we believe) then there obviously is no reason for the state to eliminate Catholic Charities as a valuable resource to address the plight of abused children in Illinois,” Roach said. “This is clearly a matter of the law and we are hopeful that all parties will respect the decision of the court in this case.”
According to DCFS, almost 2,000 children receive services from Catholic Charities in four of the six dioceses of Illinois. In June, 267 children were receiving care through Springfield Catholic Charities.
In 2007, the Archdiocese of Chicago ceased foster care and adoption services due to liability protection issues and the Diocese of Rockford announced May 26 that its Catholic Charities offices would no longer offer state-funded adoptions and foster-care services once the civil unions law took effect.
12 July 2011
Catholic Charities: The issue at hand is whether or not the religious protections included in the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act extends to programs of Catholic Charities and other faith based organizations
The Catholic Times has an online exclusive story regarding the recent judgment in favor of Catholic Charities, with my emphases and comments (comments I have repeatedly made in previous posts will not be restated here):