Funding Fuss: Church Drops Out Of D.C. Program Rather Than Abide By New Marriage Law

February 17th, 2010
By Sandhya Bathija
Faith-Based Initiatives, Marriage & Sexuality

Today’s Washington Post reports that the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has stopped running its foster-care program to avoid having to license same-sex couples.

Back in November, the Archdiocese threatened to drop contracts with the D.C. government to provide social services if the D.C. Council approved a same-sex marriage bill. Thankfully, their threats did not faze the council, which approved the measure in December.

The foster-care program appears to be the “first fallout” from the passage of same-sex marriage in D.C., The Post states. In a few weeks, the marriage bill is expected to become law once it clears a congressional review period, and the Archdiocese claims it has to make sure the church doesn’t provide any benefits to same-sex couples who are married.

“Now we’re in a position where we need to scrutinize everything,” said Edward Orzechowski, president and chief executive of Catholic Charities, the social arm of the archdiocese. “From our point of view, it’s important that we don’t in any way compromise our religious teaching.”

Catholic Charities D.C. received $16 million of its $23 million budget in 2008 through governmental contracts. But Americans United in November urged the D.C. Council not to cave in to the Archdiocese’s threats to stop performing social services.

The Rev. Barry Lynn, AU’s executive director, called the church’s demands “outrageous.”

“If ‘faith-based’ charities cannot or will not obey civil rights laws, they ought not benefit from public funds,” he said.

“I am amazed that church officials would threaten to stop helping the disadvantaged because they are being asked to treat all citizens of the District fairly,” he continued. “They seem to have lost all perspective. How strong is their commitment to helping the poor if they’re willing to take this hard-line stance?

“If Catholic Charities drops its participation in publicly funded social services,” Lynn concluded, “I am confident that other charities would be happy to pick up the slack.”

And that’s just what has happened. The National Center for Children and Families will now receive government funding to run the program, which serves 43 children, 35 families and has seven staff members.

This is how it should be. If faith-based groups are insistent on promulgating their religious beliefs through social services programs, then they should forgo public funding. Catholic Charities never should have received a government contract if it was so insistent on disobeying civil-rights laws.

As Americans United has said all along, there are plenty of social service programs that get the job done without pushing sectarian beliefs. Groups that respect and follow the Constitution deserve tax funding. Those that want to retain their “religious independence” to discriminate or proselytize do not.

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