Court Allows San Francisco County Resolution Condemning Catholicism as 'Insulting,' 'Hateful'

By Kathleen Gilbert

SAN FRANCISCO, October 26, 2010 ( -- The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has shakily allowed to stand a resolution by the [county] government of San Francisco that lambasted the Vatican as "meddl[ing]" and "insult[ing]" for reaffirming its teaching against homosexual adoption, and which urged Church officials to disobey the Magisterium.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2006 had issued a statement clarifying that Catholic Church agencies, in line with the Church's moral teaching on sexuality, should not hand over children to homosexual couples seeking to adopt. The statement was prompted by Catholic Charities branches in Boston and San Francisco choosing to cooperate with homosexual couples seeking adoption.

As a result, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors later that year issued a nonbinding resolution that personally attacked Cardinal William Levada, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and former archbishop of San Francisco, and his directive as "discriminatory and defamatory."

The board urged San Francisco archbishop George Niederauer and the local Catholic Charities "to defy all discriminatory directives of Cardinal Levada," whom they dubbed "a decidedly unqualified representative of his former home city." The resolution also lashed out at the Vatican's teaching role in the Catholic faith as an instance of "meddling" by a foreign country.

"It is an insult to all San Franciscans when a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles with and attempts to negatively influence this great city's existing and established customs and traditions, such as the right of same-sex couples to adopt and care for children in need," wrote the supervisors.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and two San Francisco Catholic citizens, represented by Robert Muise of the Thomas More Law Center, filed suit against the city, claiming that the resolution violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. A federal judge in December 2006 dismissed the case, stating that the Vatican had "provoked this debate" by issuing the statement.

The decision was upheld by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit before it was decided that an 11-judge panel should hear the case.

On Friday, the Ninth Circuit court was split on the case both in terms of its merits and the standing of the plaintiffs to bring the case forward. Only six judges examined the merits of the case, and were split 3-3; however, the court ultimately rejected the suit 8-3.

In an opinion joined by Judges Barry Silverman, Sidney Thomas and Richard Clifton, it was decided that the Supervisors "have the right to speak out in their official capacities on matters of secular concern to their constituents, even if their statements might offend the religious feelings of some of their other constituents," according to the Courthouse News Service.

However, in the minority opinioin, Justices Andrew Kleinfeld, Sandra Ikuta and Jay Bybee said that, "For the government to resolve officially that 'Catholic doctrine is wrong,' is as plainly violative of the Establishment Clause as for the government to resolve that 'Catholic doctrine is right."

The Thomas More Law Center has vowed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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