23 August 2011

Judge rules against Catholic Charities

While the Bishop and I were in Madrid for the World Youth Day 2011 (more on that later), we received disappointing news regarding the declaratory judgment requested regarding the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act.

The State Journal-Register reports that Judge Schmidt rules against Catholics on foster care.  The text of the article follows, with my emphases and comments:
Forty years of contracts with state government don’t mean Catholic Charities has a legal right to continue those contracts [this wasn't the reason the judgment was sought; the State seems to have changed its line of argumentation], Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt ruled Thursday.

State officials did not renew the contracts this year, after Catholic Charities said its religious principles do not allow it to place foster and adoptive children in the homes of unmarried couples, including those in civil unions [which we still believe is in keeping with the recent Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act].

The Department of Children and Family Services contends Catholic Charities’ policy violates the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act and in June ended its contracts with the charity in the Springfield, Peoria, Joliet and Belleville dioceses [the Act itself says the contrary is true, that the policy of Catholic Charities is, in fact, in keeping with the Act].

Attorneys for Catholic Charities said they are reviewing the ruling. Schmidt’s decision could be appealed.

In its lawsuit to force the state to renew the contracts, Catholic Charities contended Illinois’ new civil unions law allows religious organizations to not recognize civil unions if it conflicts with their religious beliefs [which it does; it is, afterall, the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act].

Schmidt’s ruling did not address the civil unions issue. He said the issue is whether Catholic Charities has a vested right to contract with the state [it's an interesting way not to have to address the concern that was raised].

No ‘protected property interest’

“The fact that (Catholic Charities) have contracted with the state to provide foster care and adoption services for over forty years does not vest (them) with a protected property interest,” Schmidt wrote in his three-page opinion. “No citizen has a recognized legal right to a contract with the government.”

The state has never forced Catholic Charities to accept state contracts, Schmidt wrote [but the law doesn't change the contracts that were already signed for the coming year].

At a hearing Wednesday, assistant attorney general Deborah Barnes argued the state has the right to set contract terms within the limits of the law [but the law doesn't contradict the position of Catholic Charities].

A spokesman for Catholic Charities issued a brief written statement in response to Schmidt’s decision.

The ruling does not address Catholic Charities’ contention that the state of Illinois cannot refuse to contract with someone based on that person’s exercise of religion,” the statement said. “Thomas More Society attorneys are reviewing the ruling and considering next actions with Charities.”

The Thomas More Society represented Catholic Charities in its lawsuit.

Steven Roach, executive director for Catholic Charities of the Springfield Diocese, said the diocese has about 300 children in its care in 28 counties. He declined to comment on Schmidt’s opinion.

2,000 children

Statewide, Catholic Charities oversees the care of about 2,000 children, said DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe. He said the agency already had begun the process of transferring those cases to other child welfare agencies and will continue to do so.

“We will not take precipitous action,” he said. “We send in a team that reviews each and every case. We’re going to do it in a deliberate and careful way.”

The transition also does not necessarily mean children will be removed from one foster home to another, he said.

“We’ve had other child welfare agencies go out of business,” he said. “In those transitions, we’ve seen, generally speaking, foster parents want to continue even if it is with another agency.”

In many instances, he said, caseworkers from an agency dropping the services are hired by another agency assuming the cases. That happened earlier this year, when the Rockford diocese ended its contract with DCFS over the same issue, he said.

Fully transferring all of the cases to new agencies could take until fall, unless further legal action puts a halt to the transition, Marlowe said.

What’s next?

Attorneys for Catholic Charities will have to determine their next legal step. One option would be to appeal Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt’s decision to allow state government not to renew its contract with Catholic Charities.

The Department of Children and Family Services will work on transferring the 2,000 cases now in the care of Catholic Charities to other child welfare agencies.

Catholic Charities 'great for us,' couple says

A Springfield family who recently adopted three boys through Catholic Charities calls the agency “great for us.”

Dustin and Tracy Bramer of Springfield previously were foster parents for the three boys, ages 5, 4 and 2, through Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities was always a good advocate for the boys, and the biological parents as well, Dustin Bramer said Thursday.

“They gave the biological parents every opportunity in the world to get their lives back on track before they terminated parental rights,” he said. “Catholic Charities was great for the biological families, they were great for our boys, and they were great for us. We never had any issues with them.”

Bramer said he is concerned that other adoption agencies will be overwhelmed by new cases if Catholic Charities is no longer part of state foster and adoptive children programs.

Bramer is the youth minister at Rochester Christian Church. He and Tracy also have four biological children, with the oldest being 19.
Life Site News reported a major blow [was] dealt to Catholic Charities in Illinois over homosexual adoption.  Their text follows, with my emphases and comments:

Springfield, Illinois, August 22, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An Illinois judge has ruled that the state of Illinois may legally refuse to renew its foster care and adoption contacts with Catholic Charities adoption agency over the agency’s refusal to place children with homosexual couples.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt on August 18th found that since Catholic Charities are not “required” by the state to perform the services of foster care and adoption, they have no “legally recognized property right to renew their contracts.”

This is the latest ruling against Catholic Charities affiliates that have refused to bow to state pressure and allow children to be adopted by homosexual couples.

Bishop Daniel Jenky says that sections of the Illinois political establishment "are now basically at war with the Catholic community."While the case was handled by the judge as a matter concerning “legally recognized protected property interest,” Tom Brejcha, the lawyer for Catholic Charities, argues that the real issue is being ignored: religious liberty.

“There’s a lot to argue about here,” Brejcha said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “The exercise of religion cannot be substantially burdened. That alone could carry the case for Catholic Charities. A lot of these people involved feel they are compelled by their faith. The burden is pretty substantial.”

In response to the new ruling, Catholic Charities told LifeSiteNews that they “will review the judge’s ruling and we will confer with our Bishops, Boards and attorneys to determine our future course of action.”

Hours after the ruling, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, of Peoria, stated in a press release that he was “extremely disappointed” with it.

The bishop said that he was “simply astonished that the politicians of the state of Illinois seem to be unwilling to grant the same kind of religious accommodations that have been granted in the states of New York and Rhode Island regarding their establishment of civil unions.”

“[I]mportant elements of the political establishment in the state of Illinois are now basically at war with the Catholic community and seem to be destroying their institutions,” said Bishop Jenky.

Prior to the passing of the state’s civil unions act, its promoters had actively campaigned to dispel the “myth” that it would affect faith-based adoption agencies.

However, many religious commentators had warned that the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, which came into effect last June, would inevitably be used as a weapon against religious agencies that offer civil services funded by the state.

Jack Smith, who writes on The Catholic Key Blog for the Diocese of Kansas City, wrote earlier this year that with “civil unions now the law [in Illinois], civil unions will also be the hammer against religious freedom.”

“Everywhere civil unions or same-sex marriages have become the law, they have been used to shut Catholic Charities out of adoption and foster care services. And there is no reason to expect they won’t be used to erode other religious freedoms down the road,” said Smith.

Erwin McEwen, director of Illinois’ Department of Children and Family Services, informed Catholic Charities in July that the state would not accept their contracts for the fiscal year of 2012 because they had “made it clear” that they would not comply with the new civil unions Act.

Catholic Charities fought this decision, however, and the state backed down after a state judge issued an emergency motion preventing the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) from ending its contract with the Catholic Charities. That emergency motion is overruled by the judge’s latest decision against Catholic Charities.

No comments:

Post a Comment