- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2020

Legal memoranda filed ahead of a deadline in the U.S. Supreme Court case between a Roman Catholic adoption agency and the City of Philadelphia show a bitter split amongst faith groups on the question of whether non-discrimination provisions to protect same-sex parents, in fact, uproot religious ministries of childcare dating back centuries.

On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union led a range of groups — including the Anti-Defamation League and the Sikh Coalition — in support of LGBTQ persons in filing friend-of-the-court briefs in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia supporting the city’s decision to terminate its child placement services with Catholic Social Services as a taxpayer-funded foster care agency due to the entity’s opposition to gay marriage.

“Far from being the product of religious animus, non-discrimination rules are designed to ensure consistency, fairness, safety, and stability in the provision of foster services,” said Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois in a brief.

Even over two dozen Catholic laypersons filed an amicus brief with the nation’s highest court, supporting Philadelphia, arguing “there is no singular Catholic belief on the issue of LGBTQ people fostering and adopting children.”

But a range of Christian organizations — including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Coalition for Jewish Values — have also sought to sway influence with the Supreme Court, arguing Philadelphia’s decision violates the First Amendment’s free exercise clause by forcing church-backed adoption ministries to disavow tenets of their faith to comply with government mandates.

“The Constitution broadly guarantees liberty of religion and conscience to citizens and organizations who participate in public life according to their moral, ethical, and religious convictions,” wrote the National Association of Evangelicals in a brief. “It is not quarantined inside the walls of a church sanctuary.”

Two Roman Catholics dioceses in Illinois also warned the court of potentially devastating consequences to blacklisting a faith-based adoption agency, invoking the termination of their own adoption agencies after the state passed anti-discrimination legislation.

“The diocese of Springfield and Joliet would not walk down that path and their Catholic Charities ceased performing foster care services,” wrote attorneys for the dioceses.

In its filing, the USCCB referenced the Catholic Church’s long history of adoption-focused work, from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in the 19th Century in the eastern U.S. to Father Edward J. Flanagan and the Boys Town ministry outside Omaha. The Bishops conference noted adoption has been among “core religious activities” for Catholics for 2,000 years.

Last summer, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower judge ruling in favor of Philadelphia. In 2016, foster parents sued the city after officials excluded Catholic Social Services from the foster care system for not complying with an anti-discrimination policy on same-sex parents, citing sincerely held religious beliefs. CSS maintains they never denied a same-sex couple from becoming adoptive parents.

The court will hear oral arguments in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia one week after Election Day.

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