At issue is a 40-year relationship between Illinois and Catholic Charities that is in jeopardy because the state -- in light of Illinois' new same-sex civil unions law -- says agencies with state contracts must be willing to place children in gay households. Catholic Charities said it would not follow any such state orders and it subsequently sued the state, saying the civil unions law provided a religious exemption that would protect its work.
Judge John Schmidt, though, said it did not matter what the civil unions law said because a more basic issue was at play: Is the state required to contract with Catholic Charities? The answer, he said, is no.
"Plaintiffs are not required by the state to perform these useful and beneficial services," Schmidt wrote in a three-page ruling in the Seventh Judicial Circuit in Springfield. "... No citizen has a recognized legal right to a contract with the government."
Nearly 2,000 children in foster care are under the care of Catholic Charities in the three dioceses in question -- Springfield, Peoria and Joliet.
The Thomas More Society, which is helping represent the dioceses, indicated an appeal is possible.
"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 legal organization said in a statement. "Thomas More Society attorneys are reviewing the ruling and considering next actions with the Charities."
The new law is named, ironically, the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. It grants same-sex couples the state legal benefits of marriage, except the name itself.
The confrontation could have been avoided had language explicitly exempting adoption and foster care agencies made it into the civil unions law. But it was defeated on the legislative floor. Catholic Charities, though, maintains it remains exempt from gay placements because language in the bill says that nothing in the law "shall interfere or regulate the religious practice of any religious body."
The Catholic agencies have had a practice of referring same-sex couples to agencies that place children in homosexual homes. Catholic Charities says they will maintain that policy under the new law.
The lawsuit says it is the agencies' "established religious practice ... not to entertain or process applicants for adoption or foster care placements in homes of unmarried cohabiting heterosexual couples or same sex couples." Those types of applications "already are adequately processed by other social service agencies," the suit said.
For years, traditionalists have warned the legalization of civil unions and "gay marriage" would have a widespread negative impact on religious liberty, affecting not only some adoption agencies but also the tax-exempt status of religious organizations, the religious liberty of private businesses and curriculum in elementary schools.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net