Catholic Charities, an organization in Illinois that uses state funds to run adoption and foster care services, has decided to appeal a court ruling saying that the state can lawfully cut contracts with the group over Catholic Charities refusing to allow same-sex couples in civil unions to use their service to foster or adopt.
Catholic Charities plans to appeal a judge’s decision allowing the state to stop working with the group on adoptions and foster-care placements, an attorney for the not-for-profit agency revealed Monday.
Peter Breen said the group will ask for a stay of Sangamon County, Ill., Circuit Judge John Schmidt’s Aug. 18 ruling that sided with the state, which severed work with Catholic Charities after the agency refused to recognize Illinois’ civil union law. Breen said the charity also will ask the judge to reconsider, then take the matter to a state appellate court if Schmidt declines.
Catholic Charities has argued that it developed a “property interest” in the work after 40 years of annually renewed contracts with the state, and that the agency should be able to object to state action.
But in his ruling, Schmidt said no one, including Catholic Charities, has a legal right to a contract with state government. He did not address the more sensitive issue of whether a state contractor that refuses to serve gays and lesbians is violating the state’s new civil unions law.
While some charities chose to end their services rather than comply with the state’s civil unions laws, the state investigated the legal landscape around contracting with organizations that said they would turn away same-sex couples in civil unions who were looking to foster and adopt per their religious belief.
The state has a strict gay-inclusive nondiscrimination policy and the civil union law enacted earlier this year was designed to be a state equivalent of marriage — therefore it was to be given the same legal standing.
Therefore, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services concluded that it could no longer contract with such organizations and ended $30 million worth of contracts with Catholic Charities across four church dioceses in July.
Catholic Charities sued, arguing before the court that there is a legal exemption in the civil unions law that means they do not have to recognize the same-sex unions, but state lawyers argued this exemption does not extend to public service organizations contracting with the state. Catholic Charities also said the state had a responsibility to maintain finance for Catholic Charities’ services so as not to harm the children in its care. The latter argument persuaded the judge to prevent the state from withdrawing its support in the short term while the case was ongoing.
As pointed out above, Judge Schmidt eventually ruled however that the state has autonomy in who it chooses to contract with. He stayed clear of ruling on the issue of religious freedom.
The focus of the appeal, said lawyers acting on behalf of Catholic Charities, will therefore be the issue of religious freedom.
The state attorney general’s office has thus far given no comment on the prospect of appeal.