Though I’m on the fly I wanted to take a few moments to comment on this story from yesterday’s NYTimes. Here’s the heart of the matter: Various agencies in Illinois (and many other states) place children with foster and adoptive parents. They receive state money for this service. In order to get state money, the recipient must comply with state anti-discrimination provisions. One thing this means is that the recipient of state funds must agree to consider lesbian and gay couples as applicants. It cannot ban them as a group simply because they are lesbian/gay.
Historically, one recipient of state funds for these sorts of placements–and an important one–is Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities will not consider lesbian and gay couples–they are uniformly barred. The bar arises from church teachings that lesbian and gay relationships are necessarily bad. The catagorical bar conflicts with Illinois law, and rather than consider lesbian and gay couples, Catholic Charities has chosen to shut its offices.
Of course it is free to shut its offices. This isn’t really the point of dispute. Catholic Charities would like to continue to receive state funds and continue to discriminate. It invokes religious freedom–since the discrimination arises from a religious principle.
There’s no doubt that the Catholic Church can refuse to sanction lesbian and gay relationships, just as it can refuse to ordain women as priests. Both acts are discriminatory, both acts are grounded in church teachings, and both acts are protected exercises of religious freedom.
But religious freedom does not entitle an agency to receive state funds and at the same time retain policies at odds with state law. Agencies must choose whether to stand on their religious principles or take money from the state.
Frankly I think this is a shame that Catholic Charities has made the choice it did. I’ve no doubt that it has done important work placing kids in foster or adoptive homes. I wish it would agree to continue to do so and to abide by the state anti-discrimination provisions. But if they wish to invoke their freedom to discriminate, they can certainly do that by renouncing any state money.
The thing is, the Catholic bishops have invoked religious freedom to assert that they should recieve state funding even as they discriminate in violation of state law. This just doesn’t make sense to me.
Suppose there was a religion that considered racial supremacy one of its fundamental tenets. The religion would be free to teach its tenets. It could organize church hierarchy consistent with that principle. But would anyone think it had a right to accept state funding and then dispense the funding in ways that were overtly racially discriminatory? I rather doubt it.