Today, Catholic Social Services (CSS) of Southern Illinois, affiliated with the Diocese of Belleville, took legal action in Springfield, IL, joining Catholic Charities for the Dioceses of Springfield, Peoria, and Joliet in moving to be added to their lawsuit, filed in June, seeking injunctive relief against efforts by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) to halt the Catholic Charities’ social service agencies from any further participation in Illinois’ programs for foster care and adoption.
The four Catholic agencies are also moving to file a further amended & supplemental complaint, charging that the State not only has distorted the meaning of relevant Illinois statutes, including the recently effective “Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act,” ignoring that Act’s explicit exemption for “religious practice,” but also violated the Catholic agencies’ constitutional rights to due process of law, as guaranteed by Article I, Section 2, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970, by purporting to terminate their rights to contract with the State of Illinois without any substantive basis in Illinois law, and without any reasonable prior notice or opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time or in a meaningful manner. The Catholic agencies are asking the Court for a declaration that they have been and continue to be in full compliance with Illinois law in their foster care and adoption practices, and they seek a permanent injunction against any further action by Illinois government officials to the contrary.
In recent years, the Catholic Charities social service agencies, including CSS of Southern Illinois, have been ranked at or near the top when measured against the performance of all other comparable Illinois agencies. Altogether the four Catholic social service agencies have 2,179 children in placement with foster families, and 1933 families under supervision. Roughly, they serve about a quarter of Illinois’ abandoned, abused, and neglected children, achieving the paramount goal of “permanency” in a remarkable number of cases and proving especially fruitful in recruiting new foster parents willing to care for needy kids.
The Charities’ lawsuit contends that state officials have ignored relevant laws protecting religious exercise and religious practice in condemning them for their conscientious objection to processing applications from unmarried couples who cohabit, whether they are same sex or opposite sex couples.
On July 12, Illinois Judge John Schmidt granted the three Illinois Catholic Charities a preliminary injunction, allowing them to continue their service in the best interest of Illinois children and families. At a subsequent hearing before Judge Schmidt on July 18, he ruled that DCFS must allow Catholic Charities to operate as it had before the fiscal year 2011 contract expired on June 30, directing DCFS to refer new cases to the agencies and allowing them to take foster parent applications according to their religious practice and be compensated with state funding for their work.
“In large areas of Southern Illinois outside of the ‘metro east’ areas we are usually only one of two providers. Within Illinois’ ‘metro east’ area near St. Louis, Catholic Social Services handles about 55% of the home relative referral opportunities,” said Gary Huelsmann, Executive Director of Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois. “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.”
“In June of 2006 the State had 15,917 children in Substitute Care (Foster Care and Group Homes). By June of 2011 it had 15,413 children in care. During the same five-year period, CSS of Southern Illinois has managed to increase the scope and size of its foster care program by 57%,” said Tom Brejcha of the Thomas More Society, which is representing the charities in the lawsuit. “Why would the State of Illinois want to go out of its way to inflict this harm on children and families, putting out of business a vital network of charitable social agencies that have achieved the greatest success and growth rate in serving our state’s most precious and valuable assets, our children? And why does it read religious exemptions out of the law?”
Court documents are available at this link.
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About the Thomas More Society
Formed in 1997, the Thomas More Society is a national public interest law firm based in Chicago. The Society defends religious liberty, marriage, and the sanctity of human life in courtrooms across the country. For more information, please visit Thomas More Society.