18 February 2011

Oaks Rebutted, Chapter Six

Today we look at “the Catholic Church’s difficulties with adoption services” which Dallin Oaks holds out as yet another example of alleged restrictions on the free exercise of religion.

Oaks: The Catholic Church's difficulties with adoption services and the Boy Scouts' challenges in various locations are too well known to require further comment.

Real story:

The Catholic Church’s “difficulties with adoption services” are, as noted years ago by BYU law professor Morris Thurston, “another misrepresentation.” Oaks no doubt refers to the case, much-publicized and much-distorted during the Prop 8 campaign, of Catholic Charities in Massachusetts which allegedly “closed its doors” rather than place children for adoption by same-sex married couples. And, as with all his other cited examples, the real story is quite different.

Catholic Charities in Boston had contracts with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to provide adoption services and accepted public funding for those services. In effect, it acted as an agent of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a governmental entity.

After Massachusetts implemented marriage equality, Catholic Charities of Boston's board of directors voted unanimously to continue providing adoption services to same-sex couples. However, four Roman Catholic bishops intervened and sought to stop it from doing so. They also sought an exemption for Catholic Charities from Massachusetts’ nondiscrimination laws. Eight members of Catholic Charities Boston’s board resigned in frustrated protest over this edict from above, which reputedly had support from the Vatican itself. It was also reported that they feared losing support from The United Way of Massachusetts Bay, the largest donor to Catholic Charities in Boston, if it were forced to follow the Vatican’s position.

While Oaks and others seek to frame this in terms of "the state oppressing religious freedom,” it’s really not. The conflict was between the Vatican and Catholic Charities in Boston, not between Catholic Charities and the law. If the Vatican had not intervened and forced a Hobson’s Choice on Catholic Charities in Boston, it would have continued providing adoption services. It was the Vatican, not the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or its laws, which forced the issue and tried to stop Catholic Charities in Boston from providing adoption services.

As noted by columnist Brian Cavner, “This is not the case of a church simply asking to be left alone in its policies, but rather an agent of the state seeking to break the law. Because, according to tax reports, Catholic Charities received $1 million of state funds to provide adoption services, its actions are subject to state scrutiny in ways that churches typically are not. The state is not paying the charity to espouse its religious beliefs, but to offer adoption services consistent with its laws. Any organization accepting taxpayer money with the mistaken assumption that it can later deny services to those same taxpayers is immediately suspect.”

So once again, Dallin Oaks perpetuates a myth in a way that I'm sure he never would have tolerated from his law students or law clerks.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the Boy Scouts’ alleged “challenges in various locations.” Any suspicions on what we'll find?

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