SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- An Illinois judge ruled Thursday that the state can stop working with Catholic Charities on adoptions and foster care placements – something the state decided to do in July after the not-for-profit agency refused to recognize Illinois' new civil unions law.
In his ruling, Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt said that no one, including Catholic Charities, has a legal right to a contract with the 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 state 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 it was exempt under civil unions and another state law that protect religious practices.
Among its arguments, Catholic Charities said it was entitled to a hearing over the canceled contracts because after 40 years of annually renewed pacts, the organization had developed a "property interest" in the work and should be able to object to state action.
"Plaintiffs are not required by the state to perform these useful and beneficial services," the judge wrote. The work, he said, "is a desire of the plaintiffs to perform their mission as directed by their religious beliefs."
A spokesman for Catholic Charities said the organization's lawyers were reviewing the ruling "and considering next actions."
A lawyer for the organization said in court Wednesday that losing the state contracts would hurt not only Catholic Charities' work, but those who want to be adoptive or foster parents in remote areas of the state where the group is the only one working in the field.
A spokeswoman for the state attorney general, who represented DCFS, said the decision "will allow the state to continue focusing on what's best for the care and well-being of children."