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Catholic Bishops Claim Laws Allowing Gay Adoption Violate Religious Liberty

The Catholic Church has basically taken itself out of the adoption and foster care business in Illinois rather than comply with new rules that require adoption agencies to treat gay couples equally when making placement decisions:

Roman Catholic bishops in Illinois have shuttered most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in the state rather than comply with a new requirement that says they must consider same-sex couples as potential foster-care and adoptive parents if they want to receive state money. The charities have served for more than 40 years as a major link in the state’s social service network for poor and neglected children.

The bishops have followed colleagues in Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts who had jettisoned their adoption services rather than comply with nondiscrimination laws.

For the nation’s Catholic bishops, the Illinois requirement is a prime example of what they see as an escalating campaign by the government to trample on their religious freedom while expanding the rights of gay people. The idea that religious Americans are the victims of government-backed persecution is now a frequent theme not just for Catholic bishops, but also for Republican presidential candidates and conservative evangelicals.

“In the name of tolerance, we’re not being tolerated,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., a civil and canon lawyer who helped drive the church’s losing battle to retain its state contracts for foster care and adoption services.

The Illinois experience indicates that the bishops face formidable opponents who also claim to have justice and the Constitution on their side. They include not only gay rights advocates, but also many religious believers and churches that support gay equality (some Catholic legislators among them). They frame the issue as a matter of civil rights, saying that Catholic Charities was using taxpayer money to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Tim Kee, a teacher in Marion, Ill., who was turned away by Catholic Charities three years ago when he and his longtime partner, Rick Wade, tried to adopt a child, said: “We’re both Catholic, we love our church, but Catholic Charities closed the door to us. To add insult to injury, my tax dollars went to provide discrimination against me.”

The bishops are engaged in the religious liberty battle on several fronts. They have asked the Obama administration to lift a new requirement that Catholic and other religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and charity groups cover contraception in their employees’ health plans. A decision has been expected for weeks now.

At the same time, the bishops are protesting the recent denial of a federal contract to provide care for victims of sex trafficking, saying the decision was anti-Catholic. An official with the Department of Health and Human Services recently told a hearing on Capitol Hill that the bishops’ program was rejected because it did not provide the survivors of sex trafficking, some of whom are rape victims, with referrals for abortions or contraceptives.

Critics of the church argue that no group has a constitutional right to a government contract, especially if it refuses to provide required services.

But Anthony R. Picarello Jr., general counsel and associate general secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, disagreed. “It’s true that the church doesn’t have a First Amendment right to have a government contract,” he said, “but it does have a First Amendment right not to be excluded from a contract based on its religious beliefs.”

The reality, of course, is that the Church is not being discriminated against because of its religious beliefs, it is being denied state funds and a government contract because of its refusal to comply with the laws and regulations of the government entity with which it would contract. Should Northrup-Grumman be permitted to build a fighter jet if it refused to comply with the design specifications of the Pentagon? The answer to that question, of course, is obviously no, but the situation is complicated to some degree by the fact that it is impossible for any private entity to engage in adoption or foster care services without being involved with the state in some manner. Even if there were no state funding involved as there is in Illinois, an entity that places children will still be licensed by the state. If all that were involved were a state license, would that permit the state to require the Church to comply with anti-discrimination laws? Or, to turn the tables, should a licensed private adoption agency be free to discriminate for racial reasons if it chose to?

It’s a close issue, and Jonathan Turley does raise some interesting points in the Church’s defense. However, I think it’s fairly clear that requiring the Church to comply with the law is not an infringement on their religious liberty. As mistermix notes, Catholic Charities does to much great work, for which I commend them, but if they are going to enter into contracts with the government and take money from taxpayers, then they should be required to comply with the same laws that every other government contractor has to comply with. If their distaste for homosexuals is stronger than their desire to see children placed in loving homes, then they must make the appropriate choice. It would be the wrong one, in my opinion, and it would harm the children, but they are certainly free to make it.

The most important point, though, is that religious liberty does not mean the right to take public money without having to comply with the law because the teachings of your faith tell you those laws are wrong. That’s not how you live in a civil society, and if the Church cannot comply with that simple rule then it needs to rethink its priorities.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. David says:

    Sorry, if you take the state’s money, you play by the rules passed by the people elected by the People. Crazy thing about living in a democracy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  2. michael reynolds says:

    We went through the adoption process in Illinois. There’s no shortage of adoption agencies. So bye bye, RC.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. PD Shaw says:

    Part of the backlash is that when the law was passed it was represented that the law would not impede Catholic charity work. Indeed, the Illinois law is entitled:

    The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act

    It appears that the actual language of the bill passed did not protect religious charity work, and IIRC one of the legislators complained that a promised amendment to correct the “oversight” was blocked by leadership.

    The legal challenge from the Church was hurt by this backstory since it reinforced the notion that the law was not really intended to protect religious freedom, it was merely intended to give the appearance of doing so. The politics of this are fairly toxic on the other hand.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

  4. An Interested Party says:

    “Religious Freedom” is such a lovely term to hide behind while practicing discrimination…it’s a real shame that the law doesn’t do more to protect bigotry, er, religious charity work…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 6

  5. gVOR08 says:

    I’ve been threatening to found the First Church of Child Pornography to highlight the silliness of this stuff.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  6. legion says:

    @PD Shaw: The toxicity in this case is purely on the part of the Church. They don’t want “protection”, they want a special, additional right to engage in discrimination, allowing them to refuse service to homosexuals, overriding state & federal statutes to the contrary.

    What the Church wants is _not_ protected by the 1st Amendment. Doug is spot-on here – If the possibility of having to provide services to homosexual families is more abhorrent to the RC than abandoning its work in adoption & foster care, that’s a decision the RC has to make. Requiring that choice be made is _not_ a violation of Constitutional rights.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  7. PD Shaw says:

    @legion: Catholic charities wants to continue to do what it did before when unmarried people asked to adopt a foster child; they would kindly refer them to another agency. They want to do what they do when someone asks a priest to perform a civil union; they want to kindly refer them to another organization.

    I fully expect the law to be changed because the state’s position is so unpopular. Either with a Democratic legislature or after next year a Republican one. And the State can’t afford to perform these services adequately itself, and probably not without access to religious affiliated agencies with independent funding sources.

    But let’s be clear about the intricacies of Illinois law. Some of the agencies that will be picking-up Catholic charity foster care only place children in homes with suitable Christian evangelicals. One of the cities mentioned in the above article does not give employees in same sex unions marriage benefits because it says the law does not apply to government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  8. David says:

    PD, there is a huge difference between not doing civil unions and not processing some adoptions. The state doesn’t give them money to perform marriages, they do get money to do adoptions. If I set up a church, start doing adoptions and got state funding, could I refuse mixed race couples? How about republican couples? Jewish couples?
    If they don’t take state money, I don’t give a crap who they offer services to. But, if they take money from the state, then they don’t get to pick and choose.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

  9. legion says:

    @PD Shaw: I understand that that’s what the RC _wants_ to do; heck, I _want_ to walk out of my workplace with one of these nice big flatscreen monitors under my arm. And if my boss somehow loses his mind and tells me I can do that, great! But then it’s purely on my boss’ head, because without his approval, it’s against the law. The Church, likewise, was allowed to hand off dealing with moral confrontations like gays & unmarried couples because the state authorities were ok with it – but now, the law says something different, and they have to toe the line like everybody else.

    As an example, if I invest money in Coca-Cola, but I despise diet sodas, I can’t really demand CC only spend my investments supporting regular sodas. Now, if I’m Warren Buffet, and I hang out with the CC board of directors, maybe I have enough leverage to get them to see things my way, even though they don’t _have_ to. Likewise, the RC has a lot of influence with state agencies, and they were allowed to operate as described. But now things have changed, and they have to decide which is the bigger sin – performing services for people who don’t conform to their beliefs, or abandoning that line of charity work altogether. And make no mistake – giving the Church that choice _is_ respecting their religious freedom, and what they are demanding is a special privilege nobody else gets. Those other examples you cite regarding the strangeness of IL law? They’re wrong also. But I’m guessing it will take a federal court decision to get those entities to play fair also.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  10. Hello World! says:

    Hasn’t the Catholic Church been down this road before? Didn’t they stop feeding homeless people in DC last year for some reason like this….something to do with having to comply with employment laws. I can’t remember the details but this type of action on their part is nothing new. Very Christian to make others suffer, but not very Christ like.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  11. Should Northrup-Grumman be permitted to build a fighter jet if it refused to comply with the design specifications of the Pentagon?

    Minor quibble here, the Pentagon doesn’t design stuff anymore (for a demonstration why, please see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXQ2lO3ieBA ), they’re generally limited to developing requirements for a design to be produced by the manufacturer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Richard says:

    Religious “liberty”= the ability to oppress everyone else by forcing them to obey the tenets of your sect

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  13. DRS says:

    This is blackmail, pure and simple. And for what it’s worth – I’m Catholic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  14. datechguy says:

    Gee the Catholic church has been placing kids since before Columbus let alone before the US became a country. but the state knows better.

    If the Catholic church was the only entity placing kids it would be one thing, but it is one of many.

    This is all about narcissism, the goal isn’t to help the kids, it’s to placate special interest and let people feel good about themselves, the actual kids are totally incidental.

    Pure narcissism, but never fear the same church that feeds more people, houses more people, clothes more people, visits more prisoners, and houses more people than any other organization in the world will find plenty of other good places to put their resources to help others.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

  15. Key Point:

    Roman Catholic bishops in Illinois have shuttered most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in the state rather than comply with a new requirement that says they must consider same-sex couples as potential foster-care and adoptive parents if they want to receive state money. [emphasis added]

    They’re free to run an adoption agency that only considers opposite-sex married couples. They just have to do it on their own dime. They want to have their cake and eat it to; to have the freedom to beliefs that aren’t in line with the general public, but still force that general public to finance them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  16. An Interested Party says:

    Gee the Catholic church has been placing kids since before Columbus let alone before the US became a country. but the state knows better.

    Yes, and it also sanctioned slavery back in the days of Columbus, I mean, if you want to talk about moral authority…oh, by the way, it isn’t about narcissism, but rather, bigotry cloaked in religious dogma…

    …the goal isn’t to help the kids…the actual kids are totally incidental.

    Yes of course, because God forbid that kids would be taken into a loving, stable home with gay parents…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  17. PD Shaw says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I don’t think you catch the actual dynamic. By most measures, including state reporting, Catholic charities runs a superior foster service, and in parts of the state, its the only conscionable foster service

    The state can’t afford its social service commitments without the voluntary contributions of religious orginiztions; the shoe is on the other foot. Nobody wants to see the state take this over.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  18. PD Shaw says:

    I have to love how the sponsor of civil unions in Illinois, who explained that the law would not force Catholic charities from changing their practices has become a hater. Does anybody here live in Illinois, what’s the deal with your state or do you live in tube-space?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  19. @PD Shaw:

    By most measures, including state reporting, Catholic charities runs a superior foster service, and in parts of the state, its the only conscionable foster service

    According to the Illinois DCFS, there are numerous alternatives in every region of the state:

    http://licensedadoptionagencies.dcfs.illinois.gov/PDFs/Summary_of_Illinois_Licensed_Adoption_Agencies.pdf

    There are agencies in every region of the same size as the Catholic Church, and in at least one case (the Northern Region), the Catholic Church was already a minor presence and people already get by primarily with other agencies. Indeed, most other regions have other church sponsored agencies, including by the Mormon Church (which has somehow managed to stay in business despite having the exact same stance on homosexuality).

    As for ratings, the DCFS itself issues no comparative ratings of the various agencies, beyond a simple certified/not certified. So do you have ANY actual data to back up your claim that the Catholic Church’s adoption agencies are superior?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. CaCO3 says:

    You can not be a practicing Catholic and a practicing homosexual at the same time. It’s an either/or situation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  21. An Interested Party says:

    You can not be a practicing Catholic and a practicing homosexual at the same time. It’s an either/or situation.

    And yet someone can be a practicing Catholic priest and a practicing child molester at the same time…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5