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Child welfare groups join case against Illinois Catholic Charities

Child welfare groups join case against Illinois Catholic Charities

(Waymon Hudson for RedEye)

More news from the ever-evolving case of Catholic Charities versus the state of Illinois over the newly passed civil unions law. Lambda Legal, the national legal organization committed to the civil rights of LGBT people, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of several child welfare organizations including the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, the National Association of Social Workers and its Illinois chapter in a case brought by four dioceses of Catholic Charities against the state of Illinois.

Catholic Charities in the dioceses of Joliet, Peoria, and Springfield filed a lawsuit last month for a blanket “religious exemption” from state law in how they administer the over $30 million dollars they receive annually from the state of Illinois for adoption services, saying they could not place children with same-sex couples in civil unions for religious reasons. The Illinois DCFS said the state could not accept the Catholic Charities contracts because the “agency has made it clear that it does not intend to comply with the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act,” which requires prospective foster and adoptive parents in civil unions to be treated the same as married couples.

Lambda Legal released the following statement (emphasis added):

“The state’s overarching mandate is to make child placements in accordance with a case-by-case determination of what is in each child’s best interests,” says Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal. “To allow theses dioceses to exclude categorically an entire class of people as potential foster parents would violate Illinois and federal law and deny many Illinois children their best opportunity for a better life.”

Last month, the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services declined to renew contracts with the dioceses after they insisted that they would not license couples in civil unions as foster parents. Illinois child welfare law and policies require that child placement decisions be made in accordance with each child’s unique needs, and forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status. Governing professional and ethical standards for child welfare professionals also prohibit the intrusion of bias into child placement determinations. Additionally, the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution constrains the state from funding social service providers who use the dictates of a particular religion to determine who qualifies for services.

Lambda Legal’s brief on behalf of the child welfare agencies argues that allowing the dioceses to exclude couples in civil unions from the foster parent application process would diminish the pool of loving, permanent homes for children in need. It also would send a message of exclusion, not only to the couples themselves, but to lesbian and gay youth in state care, who are particularly vulnerable. Gay, lesbian, transgender, and gender-nonconforming adolescents are disproportionately represented in foster care populations because they often experience rejection by their own families. If the dioceses’ lawsuit succeeds, these children would be told by the authorities caring for them and by their government that they are morally unworthy ever of forming families of their own, and that their future relationships in adulthood—no matter how loving, how committed, or how responsible—will be inferior to those in other families.

Lambda Legal also put together a great case summary and timeline of events leading up to the current point in the lawsuit.

This is a RedEye community blog. The views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author and not those of RedEye or Tribune Company.

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