Diocese Joins Fight Against Illinois

     BELLEVILLE, Ill. (CN) – The Belleville Diocese has joined the legal fight against a state law that takes away foster-care contracts from Catholic organizations that refuse to allow same-sex couples to become foster parents.
     Catholic Charities of Southern Illinois, which is affiliated with the Belleville Diocese, said it has joined the Diocese of Springfield, Joliet and Peoria in a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
     The Catholic groups claim the state’s interpretation of its new Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act denied their constitutional right to due process by terminating foster-care contracts without notice or hearing. The dioceses say the law includes an exemption for religious practice.
     “In large areas of Southern Illinois outside of the ‘metro east’ areas we are usually only one of two providers,” Gary Huelsmann, executive director of Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois, said in a statement.
     “Within Illinois’ ‘metro east’ area near St. Louis, Catholic Social Services handles about 55 percent of the home relative referral opportunities. Eliminating CSS as a provider will disserve the best interest of the many children we serve and will deny vital choices for foster parents and children as to where and by whom they will be served.”
     Sangamon County Judge John Schmidt on July 12 granted the Diocese of Springfield, Joliet and Peoria a preliminary injunction, allowing the organizations to continue to operate as foster care agencies.
     On July 18, Schmidt ruled that Illinois must allow the organizations to operate as they had before fiscal year 2011, which began June 30.
     Schmidt ordered Illinois to refer new cases to the agencies and to allow them to take foster applications according to their religious practice.
     At issue is the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, which guarantees same-sex couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, including the right to be foster parents.
     The state’s Department of Children and Family Services claims it cannot contract with any organization that refuses to recognize the law, including Catholic organizations that claim it violates their faith.

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