Thursday, August 18, 2011

Judge: State can end contracts with Catholic Charities

By Jamey Dunn

A court ruled today that Illinois does not have to continue contracts with Catholic Charities organizations across the state because the group said it would not place children with couples in civil unions.

The state ended contracts with Catholic Charities in Springfield, Peoria, Joliet and Belleville after the organization said it would not provide adoption or foster care services to couples in civil unions. The organization, which is paid by the state to provide social services, said it would instead refer such couples to other providers. Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt ruled today that the state was within its rights to break a contract with a provider that is not abiding by the law. “No citizen has a recognized legal right to contract with the government,” the opinion said.

“Today, Illinois Circuit Court Judge John Schmidt ruled against Illinois Catholic Charities in their pursuit to continue their 100 years of service to Illinois families and children with foster care and adoption services,” said a prepared statement from the Thomas More Society, a conservative legal organization that was representing Catholic Charities in the lawsuit. “The ruling does not address Catholic Charities' contention that the state of Illinois cannot refuse to contract with someone based on that person’s exercise of religion. Thomas More Society attorneys are reviewing the ruling and considering next actions with the charities.”

Those who advocated for civil unions, which went into effect in June, can take some solace in the fact that the new law survived its first legal challenge, though most felt the issue was clear from the start of the dispute. “When a private organization — even a private religiously affiliated organization — performs what is really quintessentially a government function, such as screening foster homes for licensure or caring for the wards of the state, it must abide by the laws that bind the government. If the religiously affiliated organization does not want to abide by these laws, it should exercise its choice not to accept those government duties,” said Mary Dixon, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

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