Policy Stirs Bay City Battle
SAN FRANCISCO—The Archdiocese of San Francisco is again having to defend itself against policies implemented by the city government. In the wake of the most recent instance of friction between the archdiocese and municipal policy-makers, the city's Health Commission is undertaking to rewrite one if its own policies.
Policy 24 requires all agencies that contract with the commission to have an “ethnicity, gender identification and sexual orientation composition” that is “representative of the clients served.”
In other words, if a Church agency has a contract with the Health Commission to supply services to a specific group such as AIDS patients, senior citizens or emotionally disturbed children, that agency must have a mix of employees who identify themselves on the basis of gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation that is roughly proportionate to the self-identifications of the clients served.
This policy has required that agencies providing contracted services complete a survey asking the gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation of its own employees.
In November, the health commission canceled a $97,000 contract with the Catholic Youth Organization after its board refused to comply with the request for such a survey. The contract was to supply mental health services to children.
Maurice Healy, director of communications for the archdiocese, said the youth organization had no problem with the idea of reporting race and gender statistics, but “they took issue with asking people to identify themselves in terms of sexual orientation, believing it is a privacy issue.”
The contract cancellation came after public comments by Archbishop William J. Levada in which he took issue with Policy 24 and several other city policies which, he said, pressure religious non-profit organizations “to conform to politically correct mantras.”
In an Oct. 13 address to a prayer breakfast held at St. Mary's Cathedral, Archbishop Levada cited three instances in which the city had placed unacceptable burdens on religious organizations which provide city-contracted services.
The first was a city ordinance dealing with “domestic partners.” This was the most widely publicized point of contention between the city and the archdiocese. This ordinance required that all city-contracted agencies which provided health care benefits to spouses also provide the same benefits to “domestic partners,” including homosexual partners.
In a February 1997 compromise with the city, Archbishop Levada agreed to expand health care coverage to allow employees to designate any “legally domiciled member” of their household to receive “spousal equivalent benefits,” thus avoiding the “domestic partners” issue while expanding coverage.
The second imposition cited by the archbishop was the so-called sunshine ordinance, for nonprofit organizations with city contracts. Mayor Willie Brown signed the ordinance into law last June. The archbishop was said to have personally lobbied the mayor to veto the ordinance.
The archbishop said the “most onerous aspects” of this ordinance included “a requirement to have board meetings open to comment on any topic — rather than comment limited to the parameters of the city contract. This provision provides critics with a platform to attack any belief, teaching or position of a religion. The ordinance also intrudes upon the operations and governance of nonprofit organizations through interference in the selection and appointment of nonprofit organizations'boards of directors.”
The third point of contention addressed by the archbishop at the October prayer breakfast was Policy 24. He said the “Catholic Youth Organization's board of directors is rightly challenging this demand, which violates both the integrity of governance and the privacy of individuals.”
“Perhaps only in San Francisco,” he said, “would a nonprofit organization with a history of service be denied a contract to help children simply because it would not identify the homosexual composition, if any, of its staff and board of directors.
“One senses there is a tendency toward ‘Catholophobia’ among some people in the city, marked by an intolerance of those who have a religious perspective.”
In January, two months after the cancellation of the Catholic Youth Organization contract, Healy said the archdiocese began to consider the possibility of a lawsuit to challenge Policy 24.
“We came to the conclusion that Policy 24 could be challenged in court on a number of grounds,” he recalled.
In statements to the San Francisco Chronicle, however, Healy expressed the archdiocese's desire to talk before suing.
“We're not in a sue-now, talk-later mode,” he told the Chronicle. “Our hope and intent is to resolve this issue with the Health Commission as we have in the past.”
News of a possible archdiocesan lawsuit seemed to catch Health Commission members by surprise, and in January they were reported to be considering options for answering such a suit.
According to Healy, the mayor then “voiced his opposition, that Policy 24 is dumb and should be changed.”
Cancellations to Come?
In a March 4 statement to the Register, Dr. Mitchell H. Katz, director of health for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said that the Health Commission has scheduled a March 16 meeting to discuss possible changes to Policy 24.
“The department will be proposing changes in the policy which emphasize the ability of an agency to demonstrate cultural competency in delivering services and a discrimination-free environment,” he said.
This move would seem to signal a victory for the archdiocese and its policy of trying to work through problems with city government.
Katz's statement made it fairly clear that under the new policy, if it is adopted, there will likely be no more cancellations of contracts like the Catholic Youth Organization's.
It is unclear whether such a resolution would signal warmer relations between the city and religious nonprofit groups. The Salvation Army has already withdrawn from all of its $3.5 million in city contracts, seeing the relationship as unworkable.
Cyril Jones-Kellet writes from San Diego.
- March 14-20, 1999