CHICAGO — An Illinois judge ruled that that the state has the right to stop contracting with Catholic Charities on foster care and adoption placement.

The Aug. 18 ruling, issued by Judge John Schmidt of the Circuit Court for the Seventh Judicial Circuit, affects Catholic Charities branches of the Dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria and Springfield.

Catholic Charities filed suit against the state in order to continue operating according to Catholic moral principles that were allowed before Illinois’ new civil-unions law took effect June 1: accepting state contracts to provide foster care and adoption services, but only to married couples and singles living chastely.

The ruling is directly related to the state’s interpretation of Illinois’ new civil-union law. The new law essentially views couples in civil unions as married couples, with many of the same rights and privileges afforded them, and bars discrimination against them, including in foster care and adoption services.

The law — formally called the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act — was passed last December by the lame-duck, Democrat-controlled state Legislature along a strictly party-line vote.

“The issue presented is whether or not the plaintiffs have a legally recognized protected property interest in the renewal of its contracts to provide foster care and adoption services,” read Schmidt’s two-page ruling.

While noting the “useful and beneficial services” Catholic Charities have provided by contracting with Illinois to provide foster care and adoption services, Schmidt ruled: “That the plaintiffs have contracted with the state to provide foster care and adoption services for over 40 years does not vest the plaintiffs with a protected property interest. No citizen has a recognized legal right to a contract with the government.”

The Thomas More Society, which represented Catholic Charities, is going on the offense.

“The parties to the case generated hundreds of pages of documents” in return for a two-page ruling, said the society’s executive director, Peter Breen.

“I think the thing to remember about the ruling is that the judge didn’t reach any issue whether Catholic Charities is acting in accordance with Illinois law,” he said from his downtown Chicago office Aug. 22. “Instead, the judge held that the state may contract or refuse to contract with anyone for any reason. We respectfully disagree with the court on that point because we would say that the state could not refuse to contract with someone based on their exercise of religion.”

What is Catholic Charities’ next step?

“We’re going to ask the judge to stay his ruling pending further proceedings — to stay the effect of his ruling — and also bring in front of him a motion to reconsider whether the state can refuse to contract on the basis of the exercise of religion,” Breen said. “This will happen within the next few weeks. The operative actions leading to such a ruling will occur pretty quickly, though.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois respectfully disagrees, however.
Edwin Yohnka, the group’s director of communications and public policy, told the Register:

“In considering the challenge here, the most important thing is the interests of children in the child-welfare system. These children deserve placements based upon their best interests, which is the statutory and constitutional standard. That standard cannot be modified by the religious or ideological interests of those who are serving the state by licensing foster and adoptive parents. These best-interest placements include gay and lesbian parents, who have been found to be no different from and as capable as any other good parents.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its 2003 document Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions, stated: “The marital union also provides the best conditions for raising children: namely, the stable, loving relationship of a mother and father present only in marriage. The state rightly recognizes this relationship as a public institution in its laws because the relationship makes a unique and essential contribution to the common good.

But Yohnka said, “Professional child-welfare standards require the best-interest standard and consider the refusal to place children in good homes based on the sexual orientation of the parents to be a violation of the best-interest standard. The Constitution and Illinois law also mandate a best-interest standard and prohibit discrimination against gay and lesbian foster parents. Therefore, DCFS [the Department of Child and Family Services] is prohibited from contracting with a private agency which violates these lawful obligations which the state has to the children and to the foster parents.”

Odd times making for odd bedfellows, Yohnka was joined in criticism by Thomas Fleming, president of the Rockford Institute, a think-tank in northern Illinois that publishes Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. Fleming, a Catholic convert who holds a Ph.D. in the classics, was incredulous at the ruling and the circumstances surrounding it.

He said Catholic Charities has no one but itself to blame for continuing a relationship with the state, which has shown itself time and again to be anti-family.

“Catholic Charities appears not to understand the law that has been passed. Attorneys-general and judges are not empowered to make decisions according to any higher law than those passed by the state of Illinois or imposed by the Federal courts. Ever since Illinois altered its child protection legislation to make the supposed ‘best interests of the child’ the supreme criterion, the state has shown its contempt for normal family life and parental authority.”

Speaking from his office in Rockford, whose own diocesan Catholic Charities’ affiliate, citing moral reasons, willingly stopped doing foster-care and adoptive services after the Illinois civil-unions law took effect, Fleming continued:

“The same governments that define and redefine marriage routinely strip Catholics of their most basic rights: for example, the right not to spend their money on secular government schools that encourage immorality and anti-Christianity. In blinding themselves to reality, Catholic social workers have then been free to take money from a state that encourages fornication, divorce, and abortion. Now they are shocked, really shocked to learn that he who pays the piper calls the tune.”

Register correspondent Matthew A. Rarey writes from Chicago.