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Dioceses join together in fight over Illinois civil union law

In early June, we talked about a lawsuit filed against the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services by Catholic Charities of the Springfield, Peoria and Joliet dioceses. Another diocese, Belleville, has joined the suit now, adding heat to the argument over providing foster and adoption services to same sex couples.

The dispute is based in DCFS's cancelation of contracts with the organizations because they refuse to allow same-sex couples to become foster parents. The dioceses claim that doing so would violate their faith.

The dioceses also claim that DCFS canceled their contracts without notice or hearing. This, they say, was a violation of the organizations' constitutional right to due process.

Earlier this month, a Sangamon County judge granted an injunction to Catholic Charities organizations in Peoria, Joliet and Springfield, allowing them to continue providing foster care services. Springfield is the Sangamon County seat.

The preliminary injunction came to an end in mid-July with the judge's decision to maintain the fiscal year 2011 status quo: "I'm putting a freeze on this case until we can (argue) the issues," he said, adding, "We're not going to be removing children from homes." Catholic Charities provides foster care services to about 2,000 children.

As a result of the "freeze," DCFS must continue to refer new cases to Catholic Charities and to allow them to operate according to their religious beliefs.

A representative of the latest diocese to join the fight says that non-metro areas of the state will be hardest hit if Catholic Social Services cannot work out their differences with the state. The agency, he said, is usually one of two providers in outlying areas.

The state maintains that it cannot do business with agencies that refuse to recognize the law. Catholic Charities and its supporters say the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act specifically excuses religious organizations from recognizing same-sex unions.

No date has been set for legal arguments. It is doubtful, though, that the dispute will end at the district court level.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Diocese Joins Fight Against Illinois," Joe Harris, 07/28/2011

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