Friday, May 27, 2011

Catholic Charities of Rockford Ends Foster Care Services, Claims Right to Discriminate in Name of Faith

Now that the state of Illinois recognizes the civil unions of same-sex couples--granting those couples rights enjoyed by heterosexual citizens, from which gay folks are otherwise excluded--Catholic officials in one Illinois diocese have chosen, as Catholic officials have done elsewhere when similar laws are enacted, to retaliate.  Yesterday, Catholic Charities of the diocese of Rockford announced it will end foster care services rather than be required to place children in homes headed by same-sex couples.

Catholic Charities had demanded special rights and privileges afforded no other group, to discriminate in the name of religious belief against gay couples.  The state has denied this request, because Catholic Charities in Illinois receives $30 million in state funds annually to support its child care and adoption services.  And, as with any other group receiving state funding, Catholic Charities is expected to abide by state laws prohibiting discrimination against targeted minorities, if it expects to receive state funding.

As she announced the Catholic Charities decision to end foster care services yesterday, Penny Weigert, communications director of the Rockford diocese, said, 

The law of our land has always guaranteed its people freedom of religion.  Denying this exemption to faith-based agencies leads one to believe that our lawmakers prefer laws that guarantee freedom from religion. We simply can not compromise the spirit that motivates us to deliver quality, professional services to families by letting our state define our religious teachings. 

And so, since one of the key principles we all learn in Ethics 101 is that an ethical principle is not sound if it can't be extended to other cases without contradiction or embarrassing consequences, we have to assume Ms. Weigert is also arguing for an "exemption" for faith-based agencies to discriminate against women, if those agencies' beliefs require male domination and female subordination.

Or against people of color, if the faith-based group happens to read the scriptures to promote white supremacy.  Or against the physically or mentally challenged.  Or whatever: the possibilities and permutations of "exemptions" based on religious belief are endless, given 1) the number of different faith-based groups found in our pluralistic society, 2) the different scriptures to which these groups turn for guidance, and 3) their different readings of even the scriptures these groups share.

We demand an "exemption" from laws that assure a level playing field for everyone.  Just because.  Because we believe.  We demand that exemption because our beliefs tell us to demand the "freedom" to discriminate against you.  To make your life less free, less humane, less tolerable.

Because you happen to be a woman and God made women to serve men.  God crafted woman out of the rib of the first man to show that woman is to be linked to man in a subordinate role of service.

We demand the "exemption," the "freedom," to pay women less than men for the same work.  Our religious faith tells us to proceed accordingly.   We cannot and will not compromise, since a basic principle of freedom of religion is at stake here.  And so we intend to stop all programs of assistance to single mothers immediately, to show you that we mean business.

This is what Ms. Weigert is defending with her preceding statement, isn't it?  The right of a faith-based group to claim an exemption from the laws that prohibit discrimination on grounds of gender, if its reading of the scriptures demands that it discriminate.

Though that group receives a huge infusion of taxpayer money annually to pursue its charitable work in a pluralistic, secular democracy that has laws protecting targeted minorities from discrimination . . . .  And I can't help saying this in conclusion: when I read what Bishop Finn and his diocesan authorities did to vulnerable children in their charge last year, and then compare their behavior with what I know of the lives of every child of my acquaintance with same-sex parents, I believe I'd opt--in a heartbeat--to place children with gay couples rather than Catholic bishops and priests, if I sought the well-being of those children.

And Finn is, of course, resolutely opposed to gay marriage, since, as his faith-based stance maintains,  it's "unnatural". . . .

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