Illinois Catholic Charities suing state over adoption rules

By Marianne Medlin

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Tom Brejcha of the Thomas More Society

Catholic Charities offices from three dioceses in Illinois have filed suit against the state after having to shut down their adoption and foster care services following the enactment of the state's civil union law on June 1.

“Child welfare advocates know it is in the best interest of Illinois children for Catholic Charities to stay in this business,” said Steven Roach, head of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Springfield.

“It’s tragic that there are people who believe unnecessarily disrupting the lives of thousands of vulnerable children is an acceptable outcome in this situation.”

Catholic Charities organizations in the Dioceses of Springfield, Peoria and Joliet filed a lawsuit in Sangamon County Circuit Court on June 7 seeking to legally continue their current practices of working only with married couples and single, non-cohabiting individuals. The suit was filed against the Illinois Attorney General and the Department of Children and Family Services.

The “State of Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act,” which became law on June 1, does not allow child welfare agencies to restrict their adoption and foster care work to married heterosexual couples, even in cases where these agencies partner with religious groups.

Rather than violate Catholic teaching, the three dioceses – along with the Diocese of Rockford which has not filed suit – chose to halt all state-funded adoptions and foster care placements.

However, in an effort to reverse the situation, attorneys from the Thomas More Society filed a brief on behalf of the charities Tuesday, arguing that the new civil unions law includes protections for the religious freedom of entities like Catholic Charities.

Attorneys argue that the Illinois Human Rights Act also exempts religious adoption agencies from the civil union law, and that civil union couples are free to choose among dozens of other organizations for adoption or foster care services.

Catholic Charities have served thousands of children and families since 1921 and handle about 20 percent of the adoption and foster care cases in Illinois.

“Religious and faith-based entities need not check their beliefs at the door when providing vital social services for the benefit of needy and vulnerable children and families in Illinois,” said Tom Brejcha of the Thomas More Society.

“Catholic Charities has a clear right under Illinois law to pursue its charitable good works in the true spirit of the Gospels and the Sermon on the Mount, faithful to the essential tenets of its Catholic faith,” he added. 

“We will advocate strongly to protect Catholic Charities’ continuing its mission of social service.”

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