The State of Illinois has been in the forefront of the culture wars recently because of a new law passed by the Illinois Legislature which threatens to force the Catholic Church out of the adoption business.
When Illinois’ new civil union law took effect on June 1, 2010, religious adoption and foster care agencies were faced with a dilemma: whether to follow their religious beliefs, or follow the new state law. The Lutheran and Evangelical child welfare agencies chose to follow the law. Catholic Charities, however, stood firm: They will only place children with married couples or non-cohabiting individuals.
In the state of Illinois, four dioceses (Peoria, Joliet, Springfield and Belleville) provide adoption and foster care services. Catholic Charities in Peoria alone provides foster-care services for more than 20% of the foster children in the state. If the courts uphold the new policy and Illinois severs its ties with Catholic Charities, more than 2,500 children currently in the foster care system will be displaced.
According to Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel at the Illinois-based Thomas More Society and Pro-Life Law Center, the executive branch of Illinois’ government has disregarded the legislative branch in order to push its own partisan agenda. The legislature had clearly stated its intent to protect the conscience rights of religious entities, even as they passed the civil unions legislation. The loophole which has permitted the Illinois government to impose its stringent restrictions on Catholic Charities is that the agency does not restrict its aid solely to Catholics; and since they serve clients of all faith backgrounds, they cannot claim the religious exemption which was intended by the General Assembly.
Joe Carter, blogger for First Things, noted, “In America you can have religious liberty or you can have homosexuality be a protected class of ‘minority’—but you can’t have both. And when they conflict, guess which one will lose out?”
THE BROAD SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM
Actually, it’s not only Illinois residents who find their legislators dismissing religious liberties and conscience protections for Church-run agencies, while at the same time ignoring the substantial contributions of Catholic adoption and child-care agencies.
In recent years, Massachusetts, California and the District of Columbia have all forced the Church out of coordinating the adoption of children. The legislators in these states cite Catholics’ adherence to Church teaching as the reason for forcing them out of business. Because of the belief held by Catholics that the good of children is better served when they are reared by a mother and a father who are bound together for life—and not by practicing homosexuals in a civil union—they have been deemed by some as “unfit” to aid in the placement of children.
DICTATORSHIP OF RELATIVISM
Pope Benedict XVI has termed the current political climate the “Dictatorship of Relativism.” If our society denies the existence of absolute truth, then there is no reason not to embrace homosexuality, or cohabitation by unmarried partners of the opposite sex, as equal in stature to a sacramental marriage.
In a similar vein, several state courts and legislatures have sought to redefine marriage, negating the obvious complementarity of the genders which is so integral to Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body.
And most recently, a new front has opened in the struggle against the dictatorship of relativism. The Obama Administration is attempting to deprive Catholic health care workers (doctors, nurses and pharmacists) and Catholic health care institutions (hospitals and clinics) and Catholic employers (colleges, schools, social service providers) of the protection of law, by negating the conscience clauses which have permitted Catholic employees to refuse to take part in practices and procedures which are, according to the Catholic faith, immoral and contrary to the dignity of the human person.
SO WHAT CAN CONCERNED CATHOLICS DO?
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, bishop of Charleston, directed a letter to all the priests of his diocese last week, describing the situation and encouraging their active engagement in the political process. His remarks are a clarion call to all concerned citizens—the time for action is now!
Bishop Guglielmone has said:
On 1 August 2011 the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) approved the final regulations for group health plans and health insurance coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) mandating coverage of surgical sterilizations and all FDA-approved
contraceptives (even those that cause chemical abortion) as part of ‘preventive care service for women.’ Through insurance premiums and our taxes, we will be forced to support treatment that considers fertility and pregnancy as a disease not as gifts from God.
Currently, there is no meaningful conscience protection for Catholic institutions to be exempt from this new mandate because we hire and serve people from other faith communities, not just Catholics, so that the ‘religious exemption’ now in place excludes us. Without the exemption, Catholic institutions would be forced to cover treatments that oppose the teachings of the Catholic Church and harm women and the common good.
We must encourage our Catholic community to call and write their elected representatives in Congress, to support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179, S. 1467) that would provide true conscience protection.
To quickly locate an elected official or for talking points, please visit www.nchla.org.