Illinois Judge Temporarily Halts Effort to End Catholic Charities' Foster Care

A judge in Illinois put a temporary hold on plans to end Catholic Charities' contract with the state to provide foster care services. Governor Pat Quinn believes Catholic Charities is not in compliance with the state's civil unions law because Catholic Charities refuses to place foster children in the homes of same-sex couples.

The judge seemed particularly concerned about the nearly 2,000 foster-care children that would be affected by the sudden disruption. “We're not going to be removing children from homes,” Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Schmidt said late Tuesday.

Catholic Charities has argued that placing children in the homes of same-sex couples, or unmarried heterosexual couples, is a violation of its religious doctrine.

Catholic Charities' contract with the state ended on June 30. While the contract has been renewed without controversy in previous years, the contract deadline occurred this year in the middle of the controversy over same-sex foster and adoptive parents. Not renewing the contract, rather than canceling the contract, allowed the state to argue before the judge that the state did not violate its contract with Catholic Charities because there is no contract.

From the state's point of view, since Catholic Charities would be voluntarily entering into a contract with the state to provide foster-care and adoption services, the state is not forcing it to accept same-sex marriage.

“They have a law in Illinois. It’s the civil unions law. We’re not going back. Any organization that decides because of the civil unions law that they won’t participate voluntarily in a program, that’s their choice,” said Quinn.

From Catholic Charities' point of view, the law allowing civil unions, called The Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act, has religious protections. And by discriminating against Catholic Charities for its views on same-sex foster parents, the state is in violation of the religious protections in that law.

“The law says it doesn't regulate or interfere with religious practice. Religious practices [were] defined on the floor of the Illinois Legislature as including the rendition of social services. That's what the Gospel and the Sermon on the Mount are all about. Frankly, we've been incredulous,” Tom Brejcha, an attorney representing Catholic Charities, told the Chicago Tribune.

Similar controversies are being played out in other states with same-sex marriage and civil union laws. In Washington, D.C., the city council last year considered voiding Catholic Charities' contract with the city to provide social services because it did not offer benefits to same-sex spouses of employees. To settle the dispute, the organization decided it would not pay for benefits for any employee's spouse.

In New York, the most recent state to allow gay marriage, a religious exemption was placed into the law. Without the exemption, there would not have been enough votes to pass the New York Senate. Some critics of the law, however, argued that the religious exemptions were too vague and would not do enough to protect religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage as part of their religious doctrine.

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