The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has abandoned a second attempt to block Catholic Charities from providing foster care services, one week after a judge's order kept the state from ending its contract.
Catholic Charities attorney Bradley Huff told CNA on July 18 that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services' most recent attempt to cut off Catholic Charities would have put its foster care ministry “out of business.”
Shortly before a July 18 hearing that would have tested the legality of the state's move, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan agreed not to go forward with the plan to discontinue referrals to Catholic Charities, while continuing to pay the organization under its existing contract.
Both the Chicago Tribune and the Associated Press reported last week that the state would be stopping referrals, despite the contract extension ordered by Judge John Schmidt on July 12.
Monday's decision to reinstate the referrals marked another victory for Catholic Charities in its dispute with the state of Illinois over the recently passed Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act.
Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services had stated in a July 8 letter that it was ending its relationship with Catholic Charities in three dioceses, over the Church ministries' alleged refusal to comply with the new civil union law.
The three branches of Catholic Charities have maintained they are following the law, even as they continue their practice of placing foster children only with married couples and non-cohabiting single persons.
On July 12, Judge Schmidt issued a preliminary injunction extending the foster care contract between Illinois and Catholic Charities, which the state refused to renew after it expired in June. The injunction ordered that business between the state and Catholic Charities should proceed as it did prior to the contract's expiration.
“Ceasing the flow of children was not business as usual,” said Peter Breen, executive director of the Thomas More Society and legal counsel for Catholic Charities in a July 18 interview with CNA.
After learning secondhand, through media reports, about the plan to stop referrals, Catholic Charities and its attorneys scrambled to get clarification from the state that it would continue to refer children to them.
When the state did not give such assurance by Friday afternoon, they filed an emergency motion, hoping the judge would reinforce the ruling he made in his July 12 injunction.
Just before the hearing on July 18, the attorney general agreed to continue the referrals, Breen said.
He confessed to being “confused” by the state's move, which he said flew in the face of Judge Schmidt's July 12 injunction.
Huff believes the disconnect may have been due to miscommunication.
“They are such a large bureaucratic organization that it is quite possible not everyone in the organization got the court's ruling,” he said.
But Breen remains suspicious.
“When you put a comment in the Chicago Tribune and AP news wire, it's usually not a miscommunication,” he argued. “But, at the same time we're glad they reversed their position.”
Catholic Charities will continue to provide foster care and adoption services until a hearing scheduled for August 17, to decide the merits of the diocesan charities' complaint against the state.