My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Most people in Illinois are probably aware that the state legislature passed and the governor signed a new law that legalized civil unions effective June 1. Did you know that the full title of the new law is the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act? If not, you might be wondering why the Catholic Charities of the dioceses of Springfield in Illinois, Peoria and Joliet recently went to court to seek a declaratory judgment and an injunction to allow Catholic Charities to continue to provide foster care and adoption services as it has for decades. You might think that foster care and adoption services offered by religious organizations under contract with the Department of Children and Family Services should be forced to place children with civil union couples if you didn’t know that the new law was also designed to protect religious freedom.
In fact, since “Religious Freedom Protection” is mentioned before “Civil Union” in the title of the act, one could say that protecting religious practices from any adverse effects of permitting civil unions was the primary purpose of the act. True to the act’s title, Section 15 of the new act provides, “Nothing in this Act shall interfere with or regulate the religious practice of any religious body.”
The legislative history of the bill bears this out. On the floor of the Illinois Senate on Dec. 1, 2010, Senator David Koehler of Peoria, sponsor of the bill which was adopted later that day, answering specific, explicit questions put to him by Senator William Haine of Alton, referred to a variety of religious practices on the part of “these institutions of faith of all denominations, Christian and Jewish [which] go to their various agencies providing social services, retreats, religious camps, homeless shelters, senior care centers, adoption agencies, hospitals, a wide gamut of things. So, that’s covered under the first sentence” of Section 15, he queried, to which Senator Koehler answered: “Yes. The — certainly the intent of Rep. (Gregory) Harris and I is not to at all, you know, impede the rights that religious organizations have to carry out their — what their duties and — and religious activities are.”
Catholic Charities seek a declaration from the court that their longstanding position of not accepting initial applications from non-married couples who live together — regardless of sexual orientation — is protected by the Illinois Human Rights Act, the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Catholic Charities also seek a court injunction against further action by Illinois government officials to the contrary.
A spokeswoman with the attorney general’s office said in response, “Unfortunately, instead of working with the state to ensure compliance with child protection and civil rights laws, the dioceses have opted to go to court.” First of all, Catholic Charities complies with all child protection laws. Also, religious freedom is itself a civil right. Moreover, Catholic Charities and Catholic Social Services agencies of the Illinois Catholic Dioceses, as well as other religious agencies providing adoption and foster care services, for months have implored the State of Illinois to confirm that religious-based agencies need not violate the moral teachings of their faith in their adoption and foster care programs. Unfortunately, the state has refused to do so in either the executive or legislative branches of government, so Catholic Charities had no other option left but to seek such clarification from the judiciary.
It must be noted that Catholic Charities denies no one any “legal benefit” by its religiously-based policy of not accepting or processing applications for adoption or foster care that come from same-sex or heterosexual unmarried couples. The civil unions law binds the State of Illinois, which dispenses and exercises the sovereign power of the state in 1) licensing social service agencies, and 2) licensing adoptive and foster care couples and parents. The only “denial” in terms of “equal treatment” of gays and lesbian applicants would occur if they could not obtain services anywhere from the state, and that is simply not the case. There are many, many social services agencies, acting on behalf of the Department of Children and Family Services and the State of Illinois, which would be only too glad to accommodate these applicants. Indeed, the state cannot point to even one couple whose applications couldn’t be accommodated, because there are none!
Catholic Charities have served thousands of children and families with top-quality, nurturing care since 1921 and handle about 20 percent of the cases in Illinois. Catholic Charities’ leaders are extremely concerned what will happen with those children and families if they are forced out of this work. Please pray that they be allowed to continue to care for these children in need according to our Catholic religious beliefs and practices.
May God give us this grace. Amen.