With Charity For Some?: Illinois Court Rejects Catholic Agency’s ‘Right’ To Discriminate With Public Funds

We’ve had a welcome slew of court victories for church-state separation as of late.

Most recently, a state court in Illinois has rejected a lawsuit brought by Catholic Charities. The Catholic agency wanted to continue receiving government contracts for adoption services but still discriminate by refusing to place children with couples in civil unions.

This became a particularly heated issue back in June when Illinois granted same-sex couples the right to form civil unions and, therefore, the right to jointly adopt.

The Catholic hierarchy didn’t like the new law, and several Illinois dioceses threatened to stop providing adoption services if they had comply with it.

State officials didn’t seem to mind, though. They simply informed Catholic Charities that the agency’s contract to provide foster care and adoption services would not be renewed. The state said Catholic Charities was in violation of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act because the agency would not provide adoption and foster care services to couples in civil unions.

Losing the contract meant a loss of $30 million in state funds for the Catholic group. Outraged, the dioceses of Springfield, Peoria and Joliet sued the state, arguing that they have property rights to renew the contract. But on Friday, Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt denied that request – holding that the state was within its rights.

"No citizen has a recognized legal right to a contract with the government," he wrote, dismissing the suit. Schmidt did not discuss the religious liberty issue, which Tom Brejcha, the lawyer for Catholic Charities, said he would like Schmidt to address and reconsider.

For now, though, Schmidt’s decision makes it clear – Catholic Charities has no “right” to government funds. The church agency was seeking a special privilege that it was never entitled to. There is no reason for the state to continue awarding public funding to a group that refuses to follow anti-discrimination law.

Government contracts should be awarded to agencies that respect the Constitution and don’t discriminate based on their religious beliefs. If Catholic Charities wants to continue to discriminate or proselytize, it shouldn’t receive government funds to do so.

And by the way, other child-care agencies are stepping forward to fill any gaps that might be created by the Catholic hierarchy’s refusal to treat all families fairly and equally.