SPRINGFIELD, Ill. In a case with huge religious liberty implications, Catholic Charities in Illinois has chosen to drop its lawsuit against the state of Illinois and to end its adoption and foster care programs in light of a new gay civil unions law.
Catholic Charities affiliates in the diocese of Springfield, Joliet and Belleville said Nov. 14 they were dropping the suit, three months after a judge ruled against them. The controversy stems from a civil unions law that went into effect in June and a demand by the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services that all agencies that have contracts with the state must be willing to place children in same-sex homes.
Catholic Charities had held contracts with the state for nearly 40 years.
Saying they would not place children in gay homes, Catholic Charities sued the state, arguing they were exempt from the law, which ironically is called the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. In August a judge sided with the state, ruling that it didn't matter what the language of the law said because the state was not required to have a contract with Catholic Charities anyway. In essence, he ruled, the state could have ended the contract even before the law passed.
Still, there was no hiding the fact that the civil unions law led to the confrontation. The dispute involved only adoptions and foster care contracts that involved state money.
Following the judge's ruling, the state of Illinois began moving the approximately 2,000 children under Catholic Charities' care to other agencies.
Attorneys who support Catholic Charities say it's another example of a same-sex law trumping religious liberty.
"The Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act only passed after specific assurances that the law would not impact the work of religious social service agencies," Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society said in a statement. "Specific protections for these agencies were written into the law, but unfortunately, Illinois officials refused to abide by those protections."
Other states should pay attention, Breen added.
"This stands as a stark lesson to the rest of the nation that legislators promising 'religious protection' in same-sex marriage and civil union laws may not be able to deliver on those promises," Breen said.
The civil unions law grants same-sex couples all the state legal benefits of marriage.
"The decision not to pursue further appeals was reached with great reluctance, but was necessitated by the fact that the state of Illinois has made it financially impossible for our agencies to continue to provide these services," the bishops of the three diocese said in a statement. "Since we now need to close offices and lay off employees, further appeals would be moot."
The diocese of Peoria withdrew from the suit in October.
The head of the Illinois Catholic Conference said same-sex laws around the country are having a big impact on religious freedom.
"[What] you're seeing at the state level in Illinois, what you're seeing at the national level in Washington, D.C., is a consistent promulgation of policies and laws that are making it very difficult for faith-based agencies that believe that marriage is between one man and one woman," Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Illinois Catholic Conference said at a Nov. 11 event, according to the National Catholic Register.