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Illinois dioceses 'have no legal right' to contract with state

A judge handed down a decision this week that settles the argument -- for now -- between four Catholic dioceses and the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services. We have followed the case since early June, when a handful of dioceses objected to Catholic Charities providing adoption and foster care services to gay couples who have entered into a civil union.

The court said Catholic Charities has no legal right to a contract with the state. DCFS, then, was free not to renew the agencies' contracts. (The judge had allowed the contracts to stay in place after the July 1 expiration date while the matter was under consideration.)

The decision did not address the more controversial underlying issues: freedom of religion and discrimination based on sexual preference.

Catholic Charities argued that the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act allowed them to opt out of providing services to gay couples, because it violated the church's religious tenets.

The state maintained that the religious exemption in the act was intended to shield individual clergy from having to perform ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. The act, the state said, clearly granted all legally recognized couples -- in marriages or civil unions -- the same rights.

The contract issue came up because Catholic Charities argued that the disruption in services would have an adverse effect on the thousands of children the agency serves. The agencies have been working with the state for decades, and that long-term relationship led to Catholic Charities' reasonable expectation that the contracts would be renewed.

The next step for Catholic Charities is uncertain. The attorneys representing the dioceses posted a formal statement following the ruling. Yet to be decided, the statement says, is whether the state can "refuse to contract with someone based on that person's exercise of religion."

A First Amendment fight could be brewing.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Catholic Charities loses ruling on foster care," Manya A. Brachear, Aug. 19, 2011

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