By Rob Boston
One of the problems with “faith-based” initiatives is that some religious groups are happy to take taxpayer money but don’t want to provide a full range of services to everyone.
I wrote about this earlier this week in a case dealing with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The hierarchy is angry because it was denied a contract to care for victims of human trafficking – even though it was unwilling to provide various important services, such as referrals for abortion and birth control, for victims of sexual abuse.
A similar situation is playing out in Illinois, but it looks like this one will have a happy ending.
Earlier this year, a new law legalizing civil unions went into effect in Illinois. Under this law, same-sex couples are granted certain rights that opposite-sex couples get by dint of being legally married. Among them is the right to apply to be foster parents.
This did not sit well with several Catholic dioceses in Illinois. Catholic Charities affiliates handle some foster care in the state but said they would refuse to place children with same-sex couples. When state officials told them they would have to under the law, the dioceses of Joliet, Springfield and Belleville, backed by a right-wing Catholic legal group called the Thomas More Society, sued in state court.
A court ruled against the church and officials decided recently to drop the case rather than pursue an appeal. In Joliet, a plan is already under way to transfer children from Catholic Charities to different agencies.
The two other dioceses in the state are taking different approaches. On his comprehensive “Religion Clause” blog, Howard Friedman, professor of law emeritus University of Toledo, notes that a Catholic group in southern Illinois has decided to break ties with the Diocese of Belleville and form a new group that will handle foster care in compliance with the law.
In Springfield, however, the diocese has decided to leave the state-run foster care business entirely. I was intrigued by a statement the diocese issued: “The silver lining of this decision is that our Catholic Charities going forward will be able to focus on being more Catholic and more charitable, while less dependent on government funding and less encumbered by intrusive state policies.”
This should have been obvious all along. After all, that which the government funds it also regulates. If you don’t like the regulations, then don’t take the money.
At the end of the day, foster care is all about helping children in need. The agencies used by government obviously have a duty to apply strict conditions to make certain the kids are placed in safe and loving homes. But that’s no excuse for bigotry. Put simply, there is no reason why a same-sex couple can’t provide a safe, secure and nurturing environment as well as an opposite-sex couple.
Now that this lawsuit has been withdrawn and the Catholic agencies have decided to either abide by the law or end their partnership with the state, Illinois officials can get back to job one: providing an essential service to vulnerable children in need.