Catholic Charities of Boston has decided to close up its adoption agency rather than comply with a Massachusetts policy that gays be allowed to adopt children. This charity had been facilitating adoptions for over 100 years, but placing foster children with gay parents is a violation of Church doctrine. On the one hand, I think they are completely wrong in their position on gay adoption. On the other hand, I respect the fact that they chose to withdraw from acting as an official state agency rather than compromise their beliefs.
Interestingly, the group decided not to ask for a religious exemption, which they can do under Massachusetts law, or to file a suit. I’m not surprised that they didn’t file a suit claiming a free exercise right not to be forced to facilitate something that offends their belief. Given a string of Supreme Court rulings, from Rust v Sullivan to Locke v Davey to the recent Rumsfeld v FAIR that have essentially declared that where government funding is concerned, they can put whatever strings on that money they see fit, it is unlikely they would have won such a case.
It does highlight the difficulty of drawing clear lines when church and state becomes entangled. While it’s true that the government can typically put conditions on activities that are funded with taxpayer money, there are limits on that as well. They can’t base such conditions on otherwise constitutional activities. For example, they couldn’t give food stamps but only to those who sign an affidavit supporting the war in Iraq. In this case, there are possible compromises.
In Massachusetts, adoptions are granted by the government but are facilitated by private groups. Some of those groups are charity organizations, some are businesses, some are religious groups, and so forth. One possible compromise would be to say that adoptions by gay couples or individuals is perfectly legal, but that no religious adoption agency is required to facilitate them. That would preserve the free exercise rights of Catholic Charities while still achieving the goal of allowing gay adoptions in the state.
There are lots of ways to look at a situation like this, just as there is with the related issue of doctors, hosptials and pharmacists who have religious objections to certain medical procedures or medications. These are the places where competing rights bump up against one another and judgement calls must be made no which is more important.