For the past couple of days, Illinois Catholic Charities has been causing quite a stir.
The publicly funded religious agency, which provides foster-care and adoption services, wants to be exempt from placing children with same-sex couples. As of June 1, Illinois grants same-sex couples the right to form civil unions and, therefore, the right to jointly adopt.
The Catholic hierarchy doesn’t like the new law, and the dioceses of Springfield, Peoria and Joliet filed a lawsuit Tuesday arguing that the state should definitively grant them an exemption and shelter them from any legal action for denying same-sex couples equal adoption rights.
Back in March, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office notified Catholic Charities that it had received complaints about the religious groups’ “discriminatory” practices and has made it clear that once the law went into effect, no religious discrimination would be permitted.
Since then, several Illinois dioceses have suspended licensing new foster care and adoptive parents, arguing that they will only resume once the same-sex marriage law is amended to explicitly exempt them from following it.
The Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based Religious Right group, is representing Catholic Charities in the suit, which argues that the Illinois Human Rights Act exempts Catholic Charities from complying with the law.
Catholic Charities might have a point if it stopped taking money from the state. That’s the beauty of church-state separation – religious groups largely get to make their own rules free of government intrusion.
But it’s an entirely different ball game when taxpayer funds are involved. According to one source, these faith-based agencies receive $30 million in state funds.
In November 2009, Catholic Charities in the District of Columbia tried to pull a similar stunt when the D.C. Council passed a law allowing for same-sex marriage. In that scenario, Catholic Charities threatened to drop its contract with the state to provide social service programs, like adoption services, unless the new measure added an amendment exempting the religious group from following the law.
“The church’s demand is outrageous,” Lynn said then. “If faith-based’ charities cannot or will not obey civil rights laws, they ought not benefit from public funds.
“If Catholic Charities drops its participation in publicly funded social services,” Lynn concluded, “I am confident that other charities would be happy to pick up the slack.”
And that’s just what happened. Within a few months, a secular group, the National Center for Children and Families, received government funding to run the program.
I’m certain that there are plenty of service providers in Illinois that would welcome state funding AND follow the law.
Groups that respect and follow the Constitution deserve tax funding. Those that want to retain their “religious independence” to discriminate or proselytize should do it on their own dime.