Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Court dismisses Catholic groups’ suit over SF resolution condemning church’s anti-gay adoption stance

A federal court on Thursday, November 30 dismissed a suit filed by a Catholic group after San Francisco supervisors passed a resolution condemning the church’s anti-gay adoption stance.

United States District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel for the Northern District of California signed the order to dismiss the suit filed by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. The league had claimed that city lawmakers violated the establishment clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by treading on a religious institution’s policy-making decisions.

The dispute stems from the March 2006 directive of Cardinal William Joseph Levada, formerly San Francisco archbishop and now head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ordering the San Francisco Archdiocese to stop placing children in need of adoption with homosexual households. The archdiocese’s Catholic Charities had since 2000 placed five out of 136 children with same-sex couples.

In response, the supervisors passed a resolution calling on Levada to “withdraw his discriminatory and defamatory directive” calling it an “insult to all San Franciscans” and that “such hateful and discriminatory rhetoric is both insulting and callous.” The Catholic League claimed in its suit, filed in April, that the resolution stomped on religious freedom and asked the court to order city leaders to stop “criticizing and attacking religion and religious beliefs.”

The court, however, decided for the city, saying in its motion to dismiss the case that the Catholic League’s arguments are “unconvincing” and failed to prove that the primary purpose of the resolution “is a religious one.”

Instead, the court found that the city had a clear policy-related reason to pass its resolution, which it called a “measured response.” The decision states that “any criticism of Catholic leaders or policies are presented in the context of same-sex adoption – a secular dimension of the city’s culture and tradition that the city believes is threatened by the specific directive.”

The court further decided that the supervisors’ resolution “does not constitute excessive entanglement under existing case law” and that it is merely “the exercise of free speech rights by duly elected office holders.”

Levada’s directive caused the San Francisco charity to announce in July that it would end its direct adoption program and instead partner with the gay-friendly Family Builders by Adoption. The archdiocese said it would commit its adoption staff and funding to the Oakland-based agency’s California Kids Connection project.

— Matthew S. Bajko, November 30, 2006 @ 5:12 pm PST
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