Noting that “no citizen has a recognized legal right to a contract with the government,” Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt ruled Thursday that the state of Illinois has no legal obligation to renew its annual foster care contract with Catholic Charities. The lawsuit, brought by four Catholic Charities agencies against the state in June, argued that the loss of $30 million dollars in state funding would effectively shut down Catholic Charities’ adoption and foster services.
The conflict arose after the Illinois civil union bill went into effect in June, when Catholic Charities told the state that placing children in homes headed by gay and lesbian couples in civil unions would violate Catholic Church teaching. Catholic Charities, which has provided publicly funded foster and adoption services for more than 40 years, must now transfer some 2,200 children to different agencies.
Catholic Charities provides licenses to both straight married couples and single parents living alone, and said that they would refer gay and lesbian couples in civil unions elsewhere. Tom Brejcha, representing Catholic Charities, argued that religious institutions that do not wish to recognize civil unions are protected under a clause in the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act.
Lawyers for the Illinois attorney general indicated that religious exemptions to the Civil Unions Act are in place to protect religious clergy who don’t want to officiate at a civil union, and that refusal to place children in families with gay and lesbian parents violates Illinois anti-discrimination laws that require gay and lesbian couples in civil unions to be treated the same as straight married couples.
Schmidt’s ruling did not focus on the issue of religious freedoms – he instead ruled that the state of Illinois had not violated any of Catholic Charities’ property rights by declining to sign new contracts. Brejcha is likely to ask the state to stay the judge’s ruling until all appeals have been exhausted in order to delay the transfer of the children to alternate children’s services agencies.