A new Illinois Senate bill seeks to reinstate Catholic Charities' foster care and adoption contracts after the state Department of Children and Family Services dropped the group for not allowing gay and cohabitating couples to adopt children.
State Senator Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) introduced a bill to amend the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act to give faith-based agencies such as Catholic Charities the right to decline an adoption or a foster family home application if it violates the group's religious beliefs.
McCarter said the bill has a strong chance of passage.
"I do believe that if it's sent to the floor, there [are] enough votes to pass it in the House and the Senate," McCarter told the State Journal-Register.
If the bill is passed in both the state House and Senate, it will go into effect immediately.
The bill is great news for Catholic Charities attorney Peter Breen. He believes lawmakers did not intend for the Civil Union Act to put one of the state's oldest foster care and adoption agencies out of business.
"Lawmakers intended when they passed the civil union law to protect religious groups from compromising their beliefs regarding civil unions," he said in a statement. "The people of Illinois do not want to see Catholic Charities and other religious-based foster care agencies driven out of business, period."
The Civil Union Act allows heterosexual, gay and lesbian couples in Illinois to be joined in civil unions and adopt or foster a child. The law was enacted June 1.
Prior to the law's enactment, the DCFS and the state attorney general issued a warning letter, stating that it had "received notice that Catholic Charities ... discriminates against Illinois citizens based on race, marital status and sexual orientation" in the provision of foster care and adoption services.
After June 1, the DCFS announced it would drop its contracts with the Catholic ministry. Gov. Pat Quinn stood by DCFS' decision and affirmed "we're not going back."
Catholic Charities USA President the Rev. Larry Snyder said he tried to arrange a meeting with the attorney general prior to the day the law went into effect, but was ignored.
Catholic Charities in three dioceses sued the state to continue their contracts without interruption. The Sangamon County Circuit Court issued the adoption agency a temporary stay or restraining order to continue caring for its 2,000 children.
But Judge John Schmidt ruled against the faith-based adoption agencies, asserting that the entity does not have a "legally-protected property interest" in the renewal of its contracts.
Breen tried unsuccessfully to appeal, citing religious protections included in the Civil Union Act. Schmidt denied the appeal last month and allowed DCFS to begin canceling its contract with Catholic Charities.
The Illinois State Senate bill 2495 would allow Catholic Charities to deny any application that "would constitute a violation of the organization's sincerely held religious beliefs." If the agency denies an applicant's request, the law requires it to "provide the applicant with information on how to contact the Department of Children and Family Services to obtain information concerning other regional licensed child welfare agencies."
The state has 40 state-licensed adoption agencies, both secular and faith-based, and over 80 DCFS field offices.
The Civil Rights Agenda, an Illinois civil rights advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, charged McCarter with creating the bill for political reasons. But McCarter said the Catholic adoption agency provides a great service to the state.
"Catholic Charities is responsible for a majority of adoptions and placements of foster kids in southern Illinois, and they do it for a fraction of the cost, and they do it with an extreme amount of compassion," he stated.
Catholic Charities has served the state of Illinois for 100 years.