Catholic Charities has had a very productive relationship with our community partners at the Quad-City Times for years, but we believe the June 19th editorial “Catholic Charities exclusions still discriminate” had some key facts wrong and mischaracterized our policies.
Our organization has lawfully served children and families across 26 counties in Illinois with a record of excellence and dedication for over 150 years. Let there be no mistake — Catholic Charities has no policies of any kind, nor has ever had any policies that violate any state and federal law with respect to serving clients. There is no screening of anyone, or denial of service to anyone, based upon sexual orientation. We do not unlawfully discriminate — ever.
Catholic Charities has had a longstanding practice to refer cohabiting couples (whether opposite sex or same sex) who contact us and are interested in applying for foster care license to other local child welfare agencies. This practice is consistent with principles of the Catholic Church. Catholic Charities processes applications of any individual who is not in a cohabiting relationship and for legally married couples as defined by the state of Illinois. The referral process for unmarried, cohabiting couples has served the interest of the individuals and the state while also preserving the rights of the religious organization. Anyone who wished to become a foster or adoptive parent could do so before June 1, and certainly can still do so now, as more than 140 public and private agency offices in Illinois besides Catholic Charities can process foster parent applications.
So what then is the issue? Quite simply there is a disagreement about how to interpret this new law. The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (IRFPCUA) has clear language and intent extending many of the same rights as legal marriage to those in a civil union. IRFPCUA also has clear language and intent to provide an exemption from regulation of the practices of religious organizations. Specifically, the law states “Nothing in this Act shall interfere with or regulate the religious practice of any religious body.” The bill sponsor, Sen. David Koehler, clearly promised in his Senate floor testimony that the law would not impact “the social services” or the “adoption agencies” of religious organizations. In short, the law was intended to extend civil rights while also protecting religious freedom and the policies of faith-based agencies.
With the present lack of clarity as to which interpretation should prevail in the matter, three Catholic Charities in Illinois have filed court action to seek resolution. Somebody has to sort this out. We believe that the law as written already protects the agency’s policies and religious beliefs. The exemption we are requesting to have affirmed is not unusual or extraordinary. States with similar civil union or gay marriage laws have various specific exemptions for religious organizations and entities. Furthermore, other laws in Illinois support our current policy, including the Illinois Human Rights Act and the Illinois Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. Ultimately, we believe that stakeholders on both sides of this issue can have their rights protected. One need look no further than New York to see how this can take place in a civil and fair minded republic as they finalize their gay marriage law.
In danger of being lost in all of this confusion is the well-being of more than 2,500 children in foster care placements across 89 Illinois counties. These children and families face unnecessary disruption of their services and trusting relationships with helping professionals, and upheaval in their already precarious world. The research is clear — even one change in caseworker drastically reduces the likelihood of positive outcomes for these children and families. This is the real story in this chaotic mess.
In the end, Catholic Charities will fully, cooperatively, and respectfully abide by any ultimate decision and follow the law. And always, Catholic Charities will continue to serve the best interests of all children and families in need in all of our communities.
Tricia C. Fox is chief executive officer and Anthony T. Riordan is chief operating officer of Catholic Charities of Peoria, which provides foster care services to the Illinois Quad-Cities.