Catholics throw cold water on fun party

NPR provides a couple of warm fuzzies in a report on Illinois’ new civil unions law.

The first warm fuzzy is up high:

The day after civil unions went into effect in Illinois in June, Chicago’s lush, flower-filled Millennium Park was full of music, families, friends and reporters. Circuit court judges conducted civil unions for more than 30 gay and lesbian couples. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn called it a historic day for Illinois.

“There are all kinds of different families in Illinois, and we understand and love one another. We understand that it is very, very important to have civil rights and civil unions,” Quinn says.

The second warm fuzzy is near the end of the report:

In their living room, college professors Nancy Matthews and Lisa Frohman are watching their 10-year-old son, Eli, as he downloads Iron Man 2 to their flat-screen TV.

Sorry, Catholic Charities. No warm fuzzies for you or the 2,300 foster children served by Catholic dioceses in Illinois. Instead, the piece focuses on Catholic Charities’ desire to keep discriminating against gay couples despite the law:

But the law allowing civil unions has put the state and some faith-based organizations at odds. Catholic Charities agencies in five Illinois dioceses, which had received state funds to provide foster care and adoption services, only placed children with straight married couples or straight single people who lived alone.

As the civil union law went into effect, Catholic Charities in Rockford, Ill., ended its adoption service over concerns that it would have to place children with same-sex couples or face discrimination lawsuits. Catholic Charities in three other Illinois dioceses put licensing any new prospective parents on hold and sued the state.

To its credit, the report allows a Catholic spokesman to defend the charities’ position. But the rest of the story is heavily weighted on the other side — presumably, the right side.

Even the lesbian couple with the adopted child gets to question the Catholic position:

The couple traveled out of state to adopt Eli. They say the Illinois civil union law will make it easier for gay and lesbian couples who don’t want to hide their sexuality as they try to adopt. Frohman calls the Catholic Charities lawsuit frustrating.

“If this is about the care of children, then that should be the focus. Being a qualified, loving person is not about your sexuality,” she says.

Is the couple Catholic? Would they have attempted to adopt a child through Catholic Charities if given the choice? Why exactly did NPR choose this couple around whom to frame this particular debate? This report gives no clue on any of those questions.

Despite the Catholic legal action, the story does manage to solve the entire debate in four paragraphs:

Kendall Marlowe, a spokesman for DCFS, says separate but equal just isn’t good enough and the state’s anti-discrimination position is clear.

“All agencies working for the Department of Children and Family Services must obey Illinois law,” he says.

At the heart of the matter is whether this law allows a religious exemption. Breen argues that adoption is part of the church’s mission. Yale University law professor William Eskridge says the court is likely to reject that reasoning.

“I don’t know of any court decision that holds that ancillary services — including adoption services or, say, educational services — are part of the core religious mission,” Eskridge says.

Here’s a minor little question: What exactly does the Illinois law that agencies must obey say? Also: Is there any disagreement among legal scholars on whether the law grants leeway to Catholic Charities and related organizations? What is the Yale professor’s expertise on this subject — and what do other constitutional law professors say? Is there a chance that a different professor of a different political persuasion might say something different?

A question that might be newsworthy (in a less cut-and-dried story): What happens to the thousands of children served by Catholic Charities and other faith-based organizations if the state puts them out of business?

I did a piece for Christianity Today early last year on adoption stepping to the front lines of the culture wars. Last week, I did a related story tied to conscience questions gaining more emphasis as an increasing number of states pass same-sex marriage and civil-union laws. Also, check out this June 30 opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal or this perspective from last month from a First Amendment Center senior scholar, who suggests:

Ensuring that Catholic Charities (and other faith-based groups) can participate in state-funded programs and continue their work on behalf of children in need not only would serve the common good, but it also would reaffirm our commitment to liberty of conscience as a fundamental human right.

Equality and liberty are core American principles, but neither should trump the other. Let’s uphold both by moving from gay rights vs. religious freedom to gay rights and religious freedom.

Might religious freedom be worthy of a warm fuzzy?

Apparently not in an NPR story.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Assep Tance

    I’m not sure the media doesn’t get religion. I think the religious among us don’t always “get” the law.

    No one denies the right of faith communities to choose the practices and beliefs that are best for them. However, no religious institution can expect the government to fund those practices and beliefs if they have a discriminatory purpose. It would be like allowing catholic charities not to allow african americans or jews to adopt (and in the apst, biblical arguments could have/were used to support such disparate treatment).

    To answer your question about what happens to the thousands of children, they can go to a secular agency, or another agency of faith that does not want to impose the discriminatory ban (see here:

    I udnerstand that it is frustrating. I understand that catholic charities is doing this all over the place, and well. However, the law does not permit the government to favor any religious views over another. It also is not allowed to to fund discrimination. And though these charities are entitled to their beliefs, they are not entitled to have public dollars to fund it.

    It’s not personal. It’s not even so much about religion. It’s about discrimination, the law and public funding.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    There is a good lesson in Bobby’s analysis for those who want to be able to analyze the media.
    Look at who is being interviewed to give their (the reporter’s??) opinion or “expertise.” Also look for how many from each side–(or only one side) are interviewed and how much space is given to each person quoted.
    Looking at these factors can help a serious, fair reader decide if he is being fed news or propaganda.
    Sadly. most of what we have been getting on Gay issues from the MSM has been homosexualist propaganda while the First Amendment to the Constitution is being mindlessly ground up.

  • Julia

    “I don’t know of any court decision that holds that ancillary services — including adoption services or, say, educational services — are part of the core religious mission,” Eskridge says.

    So we are moving head-long into “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion”. Are courts denying that corporal works of mercy have been part of the core religious mission from day #1?

    I am currently reading “The Inheritance of Rome; Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000″ by Christopher Wickham, professor of Medieval History at Oxford and member of the British Academy, published in 2009.

    at page 58, Professor Wickham is discussing how the coming of Christianity did not greatly change the culture of Rome other than legislation such as making divorce more difficult and abolishing amphitheatre games.

    One important exception was charity to the poor, which had been a mainstay of Christian community activity since its early years as a persecuted minority. It remained a major responsibility for good Christians, more than it had been for pagans, and was also a major role for churches . . . as they increased in wealth. . . This emphasis on charity would later be inherited to Islam too.

  • Julia

    inherited by Islam too.


  • J. Lahondere

    I am not well-versed in most of the topics at hand, but a question I had as I read this is: what constitutes “discriminatory” behavior?

    Obviously the church had some criteria about who it adopted children out to. Would it adopt children out card-carrying Satanists? Pedophiles? People with addictions to prescription drugs? People with AIDS? People with filthy homes? People who are in debt? Convicted felons?

    Not to make this into a “slippery slope” argument, but I wish the reporter would ask a legal expert to explain “discriminatory,” because it seems as though sexual choices are protected but most other choices are not. Why is that?

    A separate but important question: what’s the church’s justification for adopting children to single parents but not gay couples?

  • Caspar

    In other reports, some interesting commentary has emerged on the supposedly zero sum nature of the encounter between the gay marriage push and religious freedom.

    It’ll be interesting to see the extent to which future reporting follows the same line.

  • Judy Harrow

    @J. Lahondere (#5)

    The answer to your question is pretty simple. Certain forms of discrimination are legally prohibited. These usually include race and religion, and often also include gender, age, and/or sexual orientation. It varies from state to state. Discrimination on other criteria, such as those you mention, is not covered by the law.

    I fail to see why any institution whose practices involve legally-defined discrimination should receive a public subsidy in the form of a tax exemption.

  • Mollie

    At least the media report shows people the trade-off between redefining marriage and seriously altering the way churches have handled adoption in this country.

    There are many other examples of how Christians, Jews, Muslims and others will have every aspect of their religious work under assault.

    Time to write those stories.

  • bob smietana

    The religious freedom question is complicated by the fact that Catholic Charities was using government funds for their adoption program.

    So the question is – should they be able to take those government funds and still discriminate according to their religious beliefs?

  • dalea

    As a gay man who pays taxes, I am strongly oppossed to any tax monies going to agencies that discriminate against GLBT people. This line of argument is exactly parrallel to the RC position on abortion funding: no tax dollars. Is there some argument here that I am missing? Can one logically argue that people who are against abortion should not be forced to fund abortions but that people who are GLBT should be forced to fund agencies that discriminate against them? Bobby, could you answer this please.

  • dalea

    The press coverage does not ignore freedom of religion. It focuses on sources of funding and asks if GLBT people should be forced to subsidize agencies that discriminate against them. This is a fairly simple political issue, one that is almost always decided against discrimination. The press rightly does not treat this as a religious freedom issue.

  • Bobby

    You’re right, Bob, but read the WSJ and First Amendment Center links if you get a chance. Both raise some interesting points related to the public funding issue.

  • Dave

    The big unaddressed question is why Illinois cannot cut out religious exemptions the way New York did in the gay marriage law just adopted by the latter. In fact, that bill passed because of the strong exemption clauses. If lawmakers really care about kids, why not go the extra mile? If journalists really care about accountability, why not put those lawmakers on the spot?

  • Bill

    Judy writes in #7

    I fail to see why any institution whose practices involve legally-defined discrimination should receive a public subsidy in the form of a tax exemption.

    Perhaps we should grant such public subsidies only to churches that are in political conformity. We could have a government oversight committee to review the doctrines of churches to determine which are officially acceptable. Those which don’t pass muster will have to pony up or change their tenets. And if they don’t change and don’t have the dough to pay the taxes, we can always seize their property and sell it to developers.

    But wait… simply not taxing something is a public subsidy? Then wouldn’t all tax exemptions to all churches be unconstitutional? Better still! More booty to loot! No 1st Amendment problems here; as Julia points out (#3), what the Founders really meant was freedom of worship. Heck, you can do that in your basement.

    Mollie (#8) is correct. There will be upcoming legal challenges to religious exemptions the recent NY marriage law. No doubt the search for a sympathetic judge is already underway. Any guesses how the NYT will frame this?

    Traditional religious groups will come under more scrutiny and censure. When churches come into conflict with the state, guess who usually wins. (At least in the short run.)

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Invoking “discrimination” indiscriminately (sorry, I couldn’t resist) has been a staple of journalism since the 60s. Never mind that same-sex attraction is not in the same category as race; it’s the unquestionable argument. I know because I read it from that great journalist, Ann Landers, more than 20 years ago. I “liked” Judy Harrow’s #7, but would be interested in the actual legal arguments against “discriminating against” same-sex couples.

    For a good example of the incoherence at the end of these arguments, try this from the always entertaining Washington Post blog On Faith.

  • bob smietana

    Bobby– thanks for recommending the Charles Haynes piece. He’s usually spot on when it comes to these issues.

  • Lynn

    An important question which seems to be missing from the article, and all articles which I have read on this topic, is whether Catholic Charities would be allowed to operate adoption agencies according to their religious beliefs if they did so without government funding. Is Catholic Charities giving up because they don’t think they could financially support adoption agencies without government support? Or does the anti-discrimination regulation apply to all agencies, even those which are privately funded?

  • Elijah

    Nobody seems particularly concerned about the work that Catholic Charieties (for example) actually does. Where do the children up for adoption coming from? Who is adopting them? How do those constituencies feel about CC and their work? Why are they necessary at all – can government agencies replace their work? Why don’t they? And so forth. Why does so little coverage focus on the children in need of a home and what might be best for them?

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: Can one logically argue that people who are against abortion should not be forced to fund abortions but that people who are GLBT should be forced to fund agencies that discriminate against them?

    Yes, because we have freedom of religious practice in this country, and abortion is not a requirement of anyone’s religion, whatever the yahoos at NARAL might think.

    FTR, I don’t particularly have a problem with (secular) gay marriage, or with gay sex, but I believe that those who feel differently then I do, for religious reasons, must have their beliefs and ability to live by those beliefs protected.

  • Sarah Webber

    I would assume that CC is working in adoption because the state cannot manage it all. And so it pays CC to pick up the slack. Pick any large city in the US and spend 5 minutes reading about their Children’s Services program and I’ll bet you the main themes are too many kids, too few staff, too few dollars. And a few tragedies of kids that fall through the cracks and are hurt or killed. No one system can take care of everyone because humans create and run the systems and humans are flawed. CC has proved in many places over a long period of time that they do this well and probably for competitive costs, which would have been why they were contracted to do so in the first place. I am almost certain that if you threw CC out of the system, it’s the children who would suffer, not the idealogues. Can we not simply agree to disagree?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    What does #21 have to do with honest, decent critical religious coverage by the media. To me it reads like something flushed out of a fetid sewer by someone who loves swimming in it.
    Luckily there is usually little of this on GR.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    RE: #20 – yes, plus CC is leveraging Catholic donations, which stretch the public dollars. I worked in the Refugee Resettlement program of our local CC in the late 90s and our dollars were a combination of state and federal funds and diocesan funds. I would like to see a good article on exactly how much private money stretches the public funds, but a quick google didn’t turn up any.

    #17 – Governmental entities license foster care and adoption services, so privately funded services are also at risk. Remember the movement to require all pharmacists to provide abortifacients, all hospitals to commit abortions, and all medical students to “be trained in” (requiring practice, of course) abortions.

    I remember a commenter on this blog opining that Catholics should not be allowed to run schools or social services.

    No, it’s about the kids.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    It’s NOT about the kids.

    Now you people know why I’m not a professional writer. I like to eat too much.

  • Dave G.

    Just the comments show why this is going to be a defining issue. There seems, in the end, to be no middle ground. It’s going to be one values system winning and the other one losing. This particular story actually did a better job than many stories I see on this and similar topics. Yes, it’s slanted. But as anyone can see, most of the media has concluded what the absolute truth regarding this issue is. And so its coverage is along the same lines.

  • Dave

    There will be upcoming legal challenges to religious exemptions [in] the recent NY marriage law.

    Those who mount such challenges had best be mindful. The law has an inseparability clause, to the effect that if any portion of it is found unconstitutional, the entire law is voided. Challengers had better make sure they are not drawing a bead on their own foot.

    BTW The Wild Hunt is ruminating religious exmpetions as we speak.

  • Judy Harrow

    For the record, I want to say that I think it would be perfectly OK for Catholic Charities to only place babies with heterosexual married couples who are practicing Catholics, thus ensuring that the children would be raised in the Catholic faith. I’ll bet that some Catholic birth mothers would feel much more comfortable placing their children in adoption if they had that assurance. I think it’s entirely appropriate for a denominational service organization to specifically serve their own community — as long as they do so on their own dime.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    The CC unit in which I worked was led by a woman who would have been a Unitarian had she been religious at all (her words). I was the only practicing Catholic among a number of seculars, Buddhists, one non-Catholic Christian, and a Muslim. We served refugees without respect to their religion. Actually we got a lot of mixed Orthodox/Muslim families from the old Yugoslavia.

    The point is that the media isn’t writing stories because we want to place Catholic babies with Catholic families. The stories are written because we don’t want to place children with same-sex couples. That’s the issue.

  • Julia

    Orphanages exist to care for and place children.
    Same for agencies that facilitate adoptions of these children. These organizations are not primarily to service prospective parents by providing them with children.

    Consumerism does not extend to real children’s lives.
    Children are not commodities.

    So why is everybody assuming that “public accommodations” is the Constitutional issue involved?

    Or is it some other Constitutional right or guarantee that is behind giving rights to people to adopt children?

  • Dave

    Julia, as I understand it the issue at this level is state anti-discrimination law. The “public accommodations” loop was to justify Congressional intevention, under the Interstate Commerce Clause, back in the 1960s. States can regulate anything.

  • dalea

    My understanding is that for many children adoption is not an option: there are issues with the birth parent’s rights which preclude adoption. So, the majority of children are placed in foster homes. The foster parents are paid by the state to care for children, which is a form of employment. And in many places, GL people are protected in state employment.

    Additionally, the social workers and psychologists who actually run the system are members of profesional organizations which require that no member can discriminate against GL people. I suspect that this is a major part of the situation. Discrimination can be ordered but no one will carry out the order.

  • Bethany

    Oh wow, I have been behind in my Getreligion reading. I just submitted a related article. Perhaps it would be redundant at this point. It does seem to strike a very different tone than the article mentioned here, so maybe it will still be relevant.

  • helen

    Nobody thinks it’s about handing children, [who came from "straight" origins and probably would have grown up "straight"] over to people who are very likely to teach them to be glbt?
    It’s about the children!