This week, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney won a major court case that will most likely make its way to the US Supreme Court and affects our community more than the super-hyped wedding-cake case. And guess what? Almost no one noticed the significance of this major turn of events, but with much higher stakes, not only for you, but especially for religious organizations. Why does it loom large, with billions in tax dollars? Yes, we’ve reached a new stage of our struggle, where discrimination against LGBT people could cost billions – that’s billions, with a B – of dollars to those who discriminate, or it could legalize discrimination.
Here’s the skinny on the facts: Catholic Social Services had a contract with Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services to aid in placing foster youth. The Catholic group refused to consider a gay couple for fostering, turning them away simply for their sexuality. They claim that same old line as the wedding-cake case, “it’s against their religious beliefs,” but here’s the problem: They take public funds. Translation: Your tax dollars were used to discriminate. The wedding-cake shop was a personal business, not a nonprofit taking public funds. And this case, if it makes its way to the Supreme Court, will shine a light on the use of the Catholic Church’s nonprofit status and your tax dollars, and what those dollars are used for.
And that, my friends, is a case the Church and its friends should be afraid of, since many of your tax dollars go to places that would shock most taxpayers. And it might answer the question of how public funds are diverted for conversion therapy, discrimination and, more importantly, paying for employees at a community center or other nonprofit rather then discovering that the employee really is working for a religious organization or maybe spending some of that taxpayers time and’ money doing religious work. They opened the door; let’s walk through it.
Here’s a sample of the research I did: the Washington Times reported in September 2015 that “the Church and related Catholic charities and schools have collected more than $1.6 billion since 2012 in US contracts and grants.” That’s just until 2012. So let’s see if we can get a little deeper.
Charity Navigator had a host of Catholic organizations listed, but guess what? Most of the funding information was missing. They explained it as follows: “Why isn’t this organization rated? Portions of a Charity Navigator’s evaluation are based on information published in IRS Form 990. The IRS does not require this organization to publish a Form 990.”
But what the organization did list was its mission statement. “Stated Mission of Catholic Charities: To provide service to people in need, to advocate for justice in social structures, and to call the entire Church and other people of good will to do the same.”
So, I guess that means LGBT people who wanted to be foster parents aren’t “people of good will”?
Another charity watchdog, GuideStar, lists an area Catholic charity with $8 million in publicly traded stock and blacked out where those funds came from. Are your tax dollars being used on the New York Stock Exchange to benefit a religious organization that might send children to torture through conversion therapy?
Back to that Washington Times report. “Catholic Charities USA, the largest charitable organization run by the Church, receives about 65% of its annual budget from state and federal governments, making it an arm of the federal welfare state,” said Brian Anderson, a researcher with the Manhattan Institute in the article. Add federal, state, and city government funding like the one now before the courts. That’s over a billion dollars of your tax dollars … and how it is used? Against the non-discrimination laws of the government that is granting those funds?
It’s anyone’s guess how the case would be ruled on by the Supreme Court, with its newest nominee being a devout Catholic, with a capital D for devout. But here’s the same case I’ve been making since 1974: The LGBT community needs to make the Equality Act, which has been before Congress since 1974 and never passed, our number-one goal since religious charities might be considered a protected class and above government law, and we are not a protected case like race, religion, sex, or national origin without that Equality Act.
So all of you who want to take action, now is the time, and peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience are needed against those in Congress who won’t support the Equality Act. You don’t have to go to Washington, DC. You can call out your Congress members at their home office in your city or state. Another course is that as long as these charities continue to discriminate, investigate them as I have and publicize your findings, or ask your local newspaper to do so. We are not helpless in this, we just need to be organized and have the will to resist oppression with our own funds.
And as for Mayor Jim Kenney, he’s a proud Irish Catholic who went to Catholic schools.
Mark Segal is publisher of Philadelphia Gay News.