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. rcampbell –
    If an Aztec church that practiced child sacrifice wanted to get a state license to run an adoption agency, this would be a non-revenue related issue that would come into play in the determination.
    The issue is what kind of religious motivated actions should be taken into consideration in granting a license. At least I thought that was the issue.

    I don’t think that issues of civil rights should turn centrally on money. It reminds me too much of letters to congress that start “As a concerned taxpayer….”.

  2. Dredd, As a person of Faith, I am appalled by the statements of some running in the primary now as well as currently seated legislators, etc who call for acceptance of all religiions (but preferably Christian it seems) but not if you are an atheist.
    You know Rev Mueller’s poem, First they came for the Jews.

    The simple question is: “What is better? A child with a loving adult to care for them or a child raised in foster care or an orphanage?”
    That is the problem. They would prefer and this has been their position for a long time, better an orphanage of fostering then a gay couple, better potentially horrid conditions and lack of love and abuse (and I know there are good facilities and good foster parents but that is not in all cases – too many horror stories out there.) then 2 loving parents, solely because they are homosexual and because of that, shame on them. What would Jesus do? I doubt say the heck with you gay people,, better a child not be placed then placed with 2 loving people.

  3. I can certainly see making a distinction between licensing and seeking public funds. Seeking public funding is a choice the Catholic adoption services make–in theory, at least, they can perform their service without public funds. Therefore, when they seek public funding, they choose to interact with the state and, therefore, it’s not at all unreasonable to require them to comply with state anti-discrimination laws.

    In contrast, in order to provide adoption services, the Catholic adoption services have no choice but to obtain a state-issued license. In that sense, they don’t choose to interact with the state (other than in the limited sense that they choose to provide the service) and, accordingly, it’s not unfair to allow them more leeway where bona fide religious belief conflicts with state law.

    On the other hand, the state may well have a more compelling interest in insisting that religious organizations providing social services comply with certain licensing requirements even if they conflict with religious tenets–requirements intended to protect the welfare of the adoptees, for example.

  4. pete, even in this country in the early days, in many rural areas the only people who were literate were often just the minister and the local magistrate, plus a small handful of others. That is one reason we see surnames spelled in such…shall we say….creative ways.

    Many ancestral names were unpronounceable by English census takers so they were written down as the census taker thought they sounded. That was especially true of Gaelic names, some of which sounded more like a coughing fit than a word.

  5. i guess i’m on the fringe because i think their tax exempt status should also be removed.

    and OS

    very few 11th century englishmen could read 11th century english.
    most of those that could were in the church

  6. Deborah, they will not completely free themselves until they give up tax exempt status. Until then, they are hypocrites of the first order.

    IMHO, any entity that enjoys tax exempt status should have to abide by the same public policies that control the rest of us who pay taxes.

  7. The Tulsa diocese has taken the very reasonable stance of not accepting government funds for their social services in the first place, thus leaving themselves free to provide the services they choose. Overall, the Catholic Church seems to be trying to defend an indefensible position. I’ve just written on the same subject in “The Catholic Church Grasps the Gold”.

  8. Bron, one of the problems with personal web sites is that many of them are wrong. One of the things my wife ran into was that one of her family members was treated as a non-person by the rest of the family because of a scandal. For one thing, she divorced at a time when that was unthinkable. As a result, you cannot find her on any of the histories of the family, with the sole exception of my wife’s pages. And that would not have come to pass had it not been for public records, including the marriage certificate and the divorce papers.

    I know personally of one family member who threw a screaming fit, literally, when she found out a previous marriage and divorce of her mother was going to be published in a family history. I got that story from my cousin who authored the book–he was really ticked off at the number of attempts at historical revisionism he ran into while doing his research.

    The state has no interest one way or the other in personal agendas, and that is the way it should be. Records should be kept meticulously and preserved in perpetuity. Individuals and individual families cannot be trusted. I know that for a fact.

  9. JT – Church is the last place to allow intolerance and discrimination.

    Our society should not permit intolerance in any form. Not in the home, not in the school, not especially in a place of worship.

    The Catholic teachings in many cases are wonderful. The Catholic theology is wonderfully well-grounded. Unfortunately, the implementation leaves a lot to be desired.

    Sadly, the second-class status of women in the Catholic church is another example.

    As a society we should not encourage nor tolerate discrimination. Would it be o.k. if black or mixed couple were not allowed to adopt? I would hope not.

    Another generation may be needed before tolerance catches up in the Church. But considering how fast the question of gay rights and marriage has moved in this decade maybe only a few years before the Church reopens the adoption services.

  10. OS:

    I am not for Church and state being one, I was just saying that Churchs kept many documents before there was effective government for that type of thing. It wouldnt be hard to have a website or 50 websites dedicated to record keeping of personal family histories.

    As far as religion is concerned, whatever floats your boat. Or as Jefferson said “The life and essence of religion consist in the internal persuasion or belief of the mind.”

  11. Bron, the whole idea is to keep the Church out of state business. How about those who do not want to get married in a church? We didn’t and were married by a Justice of the Peace, who just happens have been one of Al Gore’s family members–an uncle if memory serves correctly. It seemed to work out just fine without the help of a preacher. We were married 55 years until she passed away last September. As far as I know, there is no church record of our marriage.

    Yes, I am familiar with what you call the “Doomsday Book.” The correct spelling of the name is the “Domesday Book.” You can Google it, and it has a Wikipedia page. Somewhere in my wife’s files is either a copy or a link to the online version–I have not bothered to try and find it as of yet. Reading eleventh century English is not something I do very well.

  12. OS:

    Which were typically kept by the church.

    By the way I imagine you have heard of the Doomsday Book, what exactly is it?

  13. The real question is whether the state should give the Catholic adoption agencies a license to commit bigotry by the agencies’ refusing to place children with loving gay couples. Assuming the church actually has a right to promote bigotry—and I understand that these days, it’s a central tenet—the state should play no part in the funding of that, and I’m not even sure the state should license the agencies to place kids if they’re going to be bigoted about it. I strongly suspect that unless one has been consistently discriminated against, as many religious followers have done with gays, it’s difficult if not impossible to understand the feelings that this sort of bigotry engenders in gay people. It is—how shall I say this?—unChristian!

  14. All religions, and atheism, must be protected. To allow one to be pushed around eventually gets around to the others.

  15. Bron, I told you why. If you don’t like it, take it up with your state legislators.

    And BTW, you mention genealogy data. My wife was an expert genealogist. It was her hobby. A substantial chunk of our hard drive memory is devoted to historical and genealogical data going back centuries. That means I am familiar with what goes into such research. Where do you think most of that information comes from? You got it–birth certificates, death certificates, census data and……..wait for it…….marriage records.

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