Catholic Charities to appeal foster-care ruling

Catholic Charities plans to appeal a judge's decision allowing the state of Illinois to stop working with the group on adoptions and foster-care placements, an attorney for the not-for-profit agency revealed Monday.

Peter Breen said the group will ask for a stay of Sangamon County, Ill., Circuit Judge John Schmidt's Aug. 18 ruling that sided with the state, which severed work with Catholic Charities after the agency refused to recognize Illinois' civil union law. Breen said the charity also will ask the judge to reconsider, then take the matter to a state appellate court if Schmidt declines.

Catholic Charities has argued that it developed a "property interest" in the work after 40 years of annually renewed contracts with the state, and that the agency should be able to object to state action.

But in his ruling, Schmidt said no one, including Catholic Charities, has a legal right to a contract with state government. He did not address the more sensitive issue of whether a state contractor that refuses to serve gays and lesbians is violating the state's new civil unions law.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ended $30 million in contracts with Catholic Charities in four church dioceses in July, but Schmidt had temporarily reinstated them while he considered the case.

Illinois authorities had said they were canceling the contracts because Catholic Charities' practice of referring unmarried couples to other agencies was discriminatory, a violation of the state's civil union law. Catholic Charities argued that it was exempt under a provision in the civil unions law that protects religious practices.

Breen said Monday that Catholic Charities' would seek the stay to give it time to appeal, believing "the financial impact on the charities of not receiving (such a reprieve) would be catastrophic." Breen added that the not-for-profit agency's "main thrust (on appeal) would be that you do not need to hold property in order to exercise religious rights."

Catholic Charities hopes Schmidt reconsiders his ruling, "particularly on the issue of religious freedom," Breen said.

Kendall Marlowe, a state Department of Children and Family Services spokesman, said the department had no immediate reaction to Catholic Charities' plan to appeal. A spokeswoman for the Illinois attorney general's office, which represented the DCFS, declined to comment Monday.

Breen likened Catholic Charities' stance to the case involving Illinois pharmacists who another Sangamon County judge ruled earlier this year can't be forced to dispense emergency contraception.

In that decision, after a nearly six-year struggle, Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz said requiring pharmacists to sell the so-called morning-after pill violates state right-of-conscience law and the First Amendment.

"Plan B" emergency contraception contains a high dose of birth control pills and can be used to prevent pregnancy if taken within three days of unprotected sex by blocking ovulation or fertilization. Critics of the contraceptive say it is the equivalent of an abortion pill because it can prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.

The pharmacists objected to dispensing the pill on religious grounds.

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