Catholic Church In Illinois Closes Adoptions Centers To Avoid Anti-Discrimination Laws

Catholic bishops in Illinois have followed their colleagues in other states and shutdown adoption centers rather than comply with anti-discrimination laws requiring equal treatment for gay couples. Despite my support for gay rights and same-sex marriage, I have previously written that anti-discrimination laws are threatening the free exercise of religion. There is a possible distinction between areas like tax exempt status as opposed to contracting with the state. While I strongly disagree with this tenet of Catholic faith, I do not believe that religious organizations should be forced to abandon such principles under anti-discrimination laws as a general matter. Yet, it becomes a more difficult argument in the context of a state contract where the church has decided to compete for government contracts.

Catholic charities have served for more than 40 years as a major avenue for the adoption of neglected children. The loss of these centers will have a profound impact on adoption rates for children who are often difficult to place in homes.

The adoption controversy is made more difficult by the fact that the Church’s activities are permitted or contracted with the state. The receipt of a state contract comes with the obligation to comply with standard anti-discrimination laws. In New York, religious organizations were given a special exemption from such laws. However, “The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act” contains no such exemption. A month ago, the Church abandoned its legal efforts to block the application of the laws to Catholic Charities and its adoption work.

There is a strong argument to be made that if the Church wants to receive public funding, it is wrong to force gay and lesbian citizens — as well as civil libertarians — to support a discriminatory organization. The Church should have every right to discriminate on the basis for faith in its internal church affairs. However, when asking the public for funds, it is asking for funds from all groups and all citizens. At issue is a reported $30 million in contracts — no small amount of public funding.

What makes the adoption issue a closer question is that it is impossible to perform adoption work without state approval. Even if the state did not give any money, there would remain a claim that the contract or license for adoption would bring an obligation for non-discrimination. I have long held the view that we took the wrong path in dealing with non-for-profit organizations, particularly in such cases as Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574 (1983). We need to re-examine how anti-discrimination laws are encroaching upon religious organizations to give free exercise more breathing space in our society — a position I discussed in a book with other authors. Mere state licensing comes closer to the tax exemption date for religiously discriminatory organization. Here the Church was received significant public funding.

As I mentioned, the adoption controversy makes this a much more difficult question due to the existence of a state contract and funding. Moreover, I have long taken a dim view of faith-based programs that entangle church and state. The Obama Administration has expanded on the Bush Administration’s faith-based programs. While the rulings in Illinois can be viewed as reaffirming separation of church and state, it is worth noting that many churches can continue to receive such contracts due to their non-discriminatory faith structure. There is a trend in favor of lowering the wall of separation in our society. I am more concerned about the denial of tax exempt status than I am the denial of state contracts. The former is virtually essential for organizations to flourish while the latter is a voluntary decision to engage state offices — and state policies.

There is always tension in serving seeking to do the work of God under the auspices of the state. Perhaps this shows the wisdom in the statement that “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” For critics, the church “tripped the wire” by asking for millions in public funds — a Faustian bargain if they wanted to use public funds while refusing to comply with public contracting laws. Presumably, non-religious organizations can perform this work and seek the $30 million of funding. It does however, spell the end to a long-standing church-based system for adoptions. The question is where to draw the line. There is a wide array of Church-based hospitals, schools, day care centers, and other facilities which often receive state or federal funding. If these organization are exempt, what about secular organizations with discriminatory tenets? Should religious discrimination be allowed while denying non-religious discrimination?

What do you think?

Source: NYT

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52 thoughts on “Catholic Church In Illinois Closes Adoptions Centers To Avoid Anti-Discrimination Laws

  1. Martin:

    Here’s some more good reading on the topic from Jefferson’s friend, James Madison, from his other masterwork (besides the US Constitution), Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785):

    Because the establishment in question is not necessary for the support of Civil Government. If it be urged as necessary for the support of Civil Government only as it is a means of supporting Religion, and it be not necessary for the latter purpose, it cannot be necessary for the former. If Religion be not within the cognizance of Civil Government how can its legal establishment be necessary to Civil Government? What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not. Such a Government will be best supported by protecting every Citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another.

    Think we’d ever have a current politician say anything like that today? The answer to that question is the problem we now face.

    Here’s the entire resolution agianst the proposed Virginia bill seeking to levy a general assessment to pay teachers of religion.:

  2. Mespo – In McCollum, the court ruled that the state was doing something that was too much in the sphere of religion.

    My comments have been that the first amendment (and this application of it) is not best described as a “wall”, since a normal wall has two sides. This “wall” only has one side.

    Whether in this case it was “too much”, versus not “too much”, is a call by the court, in view of the facts as they saw them.

    I do expect to get to Jefferson’s other writings, but those do not have the force of law, as yet anyway.

  3. You quote: “Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries.”

    Yes indeed. It seems true here in the USA, for example.
    The other case does occur, as in Poland and Solidarity.

  4. re Mespo and “Think we’d ever have a current politician say anything like that today?”

    I think that Ron Paul would; not in all that detail.
    He might not say that religion has supported tyrants, because it would be seen as a gratuitous slap.

  5. mespo, I find Jefferson’s formulation in the Danbury letter to be … inept. He says: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions,”

    It is hardly sufficient to say you allow people to think what they want (as if you could by law stop people from thinking what they want), but once they start to act on their beliefs, “they is whe we gots to draw the line, n-word”.
    Even the phrase “free exercise” belies that interpretation.

    Also speech is an action, one of the most human actions; and assembling.

  6. I do not get it. If a woman is giving a baby up for adoption and she decides to have the RCC place the baby with a devout RC family, and she does that, is the church then discriminating if it refuses to place the child in a home that does not practice Catholicism? I mean, I’m genuinely confused. If it’s about funding, the Church needs to stop receiving money from the federal government for adoption services; let the Church pay for its own adoption services. Let it discriminate in accordance with its own guidelines, too, unless it is actually harming parents or children illegally by doing so (say, by giving children to heterosexual families like Jerry Sandusky and his wife or something).

    Or am I missing something?

    If only the RCC didn’t have to pay out so many big settlements to the victims of priest sexual abuse, they’d have enough $$$$$$$$$ leftover to run all the adoptions in the world and have a surplus, especially considering the number of babies born because of the rules against birth control…

  7. Didnt reall all comments so apologize if been said already (which most probably has been (: ) but talk about talking out of both sides of your mouth. I passed a Catholic curch yesterday with the crosses outside and sign saying this how many babies murdered. Catholic church very republican, we only care once they are born and then the heck with them, no adopion services from us, well we don’t care as long as fetuses are carried to term.

  8. So according to the church, gays are not fit to be parents, but apparently they are perfectly fit to be priests. Anyone see the irony here? The Catholic church is willing to shut down adoption agencies at the expense of children who desperately need a good home, but they are perfectly willing to look the other way when it comes to cleaning up their own house, and all that that implies. Why the double standard? Don’t the same religious principles apply? Once again, it is the children who will suffer.

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