McCarter: “Religious Freedom” issue deserves full and complete public debate

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Today I was reminded of this press release from state Sen. Kyle McCarter from last November. Credit needs to be given where credit is due. Kudos to McCarter.

McCarter: “Religious Freedom” issue deserves full and complete public debate

11/08/11

Springfield . . . State Sen. Kyle McCarter is calling for a full and complete Senate hearing, debate and vote on his proposal to ensure that ‘religious freedom’ is in fact protected in the recently enacted law to legalize civil unions.

“I think the average person would expect that religious freedom was part of a law or would come into play somewhere in the proposal when the words ‘religious freedom’ are part of that law’s actual title; ‘The Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act.’” said McCarter (R-Lebanon). “Unfortunately as the law is currently interpreted, faith-based groups must now adhere to government-imposed requirements on their religious beliefs.”

McCarter introduced Senate Bill 2495 in response to the interpretation by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) of how the law legalizing civil unions between unmarried couples impacts the services they contract with outside social service organizations.

In one ruling, DCFS determined that since the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize civil unions as acceptable as part of its faith practice and does not accept any unmarried couple from adopting or providing foster care, DCFS could terminate its contract with the church’s social service arm – Catholic Charities – which has provided adoption and foster care services to Illinois for decades.

The organization sued DCFS, which eventually led to an Illinois Appellate Court decision Oct. 27 denying an emergency stay for Catholic Charities to continue to provide foster care and adoption services on behalf of the state.

At the time, Catholic Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield said the ruling was ‘regrettable.’ Bishop Paprocki also said that Sen. McCarter’s legislation ‘would strengthen the religious freedom guarantees of agencies such as Catholic Charities.’

“The danger is that faith-based organizations will get crowded out of the provision of services that are desperately needed,” said Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, the public policy arm of the church.

Like Catholic Charities, the Evangelical Child and Family Association of Wheaton also lost its state contract for the same reason.

“We disagreed with DCFS’s interpretation of the civil union law,” said Ken Withrow, Executive Director of the Evangelical Child and Family Association. “Their interpretation was that we needed to act as a secular agency, as an agent of DCFS. We disagreed because we understood that the law allowed us to continue our work as a Christian, faith-based agency.”

The Evangelical Child and Family Association has been working in the foster care field since 1950 and has had an association with DCFS since 1965.

Meanwhile, Sen. McCarter is receiving support for his legislation from other faith-based organizations.

“The interpretation of the civil unions law by DCFS and the administration does not accurately reflect the legislative intent which was clearly stated during Senate debate on the bill,” said Rev. Robert Vanden Bosch, Executive Director of Concerned Christian Americans. “The average Illinois citizen would expect the implementation of a new law would reflect what its author, sponsor and supporters meant it to be. If not, then the people of Illinois are not getting the government they deserve.”

“IFI is grateful for Senator McCarter’s leadership on this important issue and fully supports the passage of this legislation,” said David E. Smith, Executive Director of the Illinois Family Institute. “However, it is important to note that it shouldn’t be necessary. Religious freedom is not only secured by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but also by our Illinois State Constitution (Article I, Section 3), which guarantees Illinois citizens the ‘free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination,’ and guarantees that ‘no person shall be denied any civil or political right, privilege or capacity, on account of his religious opinions.’

Smith added, “Furthermore, the sponsors of Illinois’ civil union law made it explicit that religious liberties would be protected and included such protections in the bill in order to ensure passage of the law.”

While McCarter has received unanimous support from his Senate Republican colleagues only one Democratic State Senator, William Haine of Edwardsville, has signed on as a cosponsor. During the Senate debate on the civil unions law, Sen. Haine asked a series of questions concerning legislative intent of the bill’s lead sponsor Sen. David Koehler (D-Peoria), including this exchange:

Senator Haine –

“And, then therefore, and this is a part of this intent, this has been the worries of these institutions of faith of all denominations, Christian and Jewish – go to their various agencies providing social services, retreats, religious camps, homeless shelters, senior care centers, adoption agencies, hospitals – a wide gamut of things. So that’s covered under the first sentence?”

Senator Koehler –

“Yes, certainly the intent of Representative Harris and I is not to at all impede the rights that religious organizations have to carry out their, what their duties and religious activities are.”

Sen. McCarter said what DCFS has done by its interpretation is to reverse more than 200 years of historical public policy in this nation.

“Up until now, the free exercise of religion has always been protected by conscience exemptions to government mandates,” said McCarter. “This agency decision undermines that long-accepted interpretation of Freedom of Religion as embodied in the First Amendment to the US Constitution:

‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’

McCarter is hoping more lawmakers will step forward to correct a mistake that could have far-reaching implications.

“I take Sen. Koehler at his word that there was no intention to impede the rights of religious organizations,” said McCarter. “However, as interpreted by DCFS, what we now see is institutionalized religious bigotry against faith-based groups which do not adhere to governmental policies and practices that require these groups to violate the tenets of their faith.”

Senate Bill 2495 has yet to be assigned to a Senate committee for an initial public hearing. Senators and members of the House of Representatives are back at the Capitol for the final week of the fall Veto Session Nov. 8 through 10.

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