The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal challenging a San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ resolution which condemned Catholic teaching on adoption.
Bill Donohue of the Catholic League called the decision “regrettable” but said that the case has helped blunt negative comments towards Catholicism in the city.
“I’m delighted that ever since this lawsuit came down, we’ve seen a pivot. Catholics are not treated with the same sort of invective and vitriol that were thrown at us in San Francisco before this lawsuit began,” Donohue told CNA on May 3.
“So I think the message was delivered. I’d like it to be delivered in a legal way as well, but there has been a taming there. I think they realized that perhaps they overstepped.”
Several individual Catholics from San Francisco and the Catholic League accused the city supervisors of expressing hostility to Catholicism and violating the constitutional requirement of government neutrality toward religion.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution in March 2006 that attacked the Catholic Church’s opposition to the adoption of children by homosexuals. It reacted to Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith head Cardinal William Levada’s instruction that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco stop placing children with same-sex couples.
The board’s resolution referred to the Vatican as a “foreign country” interfering in the affairs of the city. It deemed the Church’s teaching on homosexuality to be “insulting to all San Franciscans,” “hateful,” “insulting and callous,” “defamatory” and “insensitive and ignorant.”
Following several court decisions, in October 2010 11 justices of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco split several ways. Only three sided with the plaintiffs outright while five justices held that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue.
On May 2 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.
Donohue said he was “very disappointed” by the move in a case which raised questions about the separation of church and state.
“To what extent can the state create a hostile environment for religion?” he asked.
He said there would have been no issue had the board simply expressed disagreement with the Church.
“But when you have agents of the state sitting there making very hostile accusations, it runs the risk of creating a chilling effect on the freedom of speech of Catholics to voice their teachings,” he commented.
“They used the most incredible invective to try and silence the voice of the Catholic Church in San Francisco. They said that you either get on board with our positions or you’re a pariah.
“I think that’s very dangerous when the state does that.”
“They weren’t satisfied with merely disagreeing, they had to condemn and accuse (the Church) of meddling. That’s a trumped-up charge designed to intimidate Catholics in the local area,” he continued.
Then-Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who is now a Democratic state assemblyman, had sponsored the resolution and defended it in comments to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Ammiano, a self-described practicing Catholic, said his resolution didn’t target the Church but “statements that are ignorant, particularly when it comes to the lesbian (and) gay community and children.”
The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center supported the plaintiffs.
Law center attorney Robert Muise told EWTN News in October 2010 that he questioned a legal reasoning that bars Nativity scenes but allows official condemnations of religious teachings and directives of “a pure intra-church matter” like the ethics of adoption.