A federal appeals court announced today it will reconsider whether the San Francisco Board of Supervisors acted constitutionally when it condemned the Catholic Church’s opposition to adoptions by same-sex couples.

The New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights claims that a resolution passed by the board in 2006 violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of government neutrality toward religion.

The resolution denounced a statement in which Cardinal William Levada, a former head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, said Catholic agencies should not place children for adoption in homosexual households.

The supervisors’ nonbinding resolution said Levada’s statement was discriminatory, “absolutely unacceptable to the citizenry of San Francisco,” “hateful,” and “insulting and callous.”

In June, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a federal trial judge’s dismissal of the league’s lawsuit.

The panel said the supervisors didn’t violate the Constitution because they had a non-religious purpose of opposing discrimination against gays and lesbians and supporting adoption by same-sex couples.

But in a brief order issued today, the appeals court granted the Catholic League’s request to have the case reconsidered by an 11-judge panel.

No date has been set for a hearing before the expanded panel.

The league and two Catholic residents of San Francisco are represented in the lawsuit by the attorneys from the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, a Christian legal advocacy group.

Center Chief Counsel Robert Thompson, in announcing the group’s continued appeal in June, compared the San Francisco supervisors to Nazi Germany.

Thompson said then, “It is not a stretch to compare the San Francisco Board’s action to that of the Nazi Germany policy of … vilifying Jews as an auxiliary to and laying the groundwork for more repressive policies.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring withdrawal of the resolution.

Deputy San Francisco City Attorney Vince Chhabria said the city will argue that it shouldn’t be forced to give special treatment to religious groups in debates on issues such as discrimination.

Chhabria said, “The First Amendment doesn’t require the government to handle religious groups with kid gloves in matters of public policy.”

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