A unanimous Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the city of Philadelphia violated Catholic Social Services’ First Amendment rights by forcing the agency to place children with same-sex couples despite the organization’s religious beliefs.
“Government fails to act neutrally when it proceeds in a manner intolerant of religious beliefs or restricts practices because of their religious nature,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the court.
The justices grappled with how to square religious liberty and LGBTQ rights after Philadelphia stopped Catholic Social Services from placing foster children in homes because the charity’s policy barred homosexual couples from serving as foster parents.
“CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.
Although no same-sex couple ever came to Catholic Social Services, a newspaper article about the policy inspired Philadelphia City Council to examine whether the group ran afoul of nondiscrimination laws.
The city’s Department of Human Services began refusing to contract with the private group unless it reversed its policy against same-sex couples.
Catholic Social Services brought the case to the justices after losing in lower courts. The agency says it is allowed to reject certain couples from fostering children based on its religious and First Amendment rights.
In the court‘s analysis of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Chief Justice Roberts said laws must be generally applicable in order to be upheld.
“The contractual non-discrimination requirement imposes a burden on CSS’s religious exercise and does not qualify as generally applicable,” he wrote.
Diana Cortes, Philadelphia‘s chief legal officer, said the ruling was a setback for youths and foster parents.
“With today’s decision, the court has usurped the city’s judgment that a nondiscrimination policy is in the best interests of the children in its care, with disturbing consequences for other government programs and services,” she said.
The Becket Fund represented Catholic Social Services at the high court and hailed the ruling as a major win for religious liberty.
“This is a huge victory for heroic foster moms,” Becket tweeted. “It ensures that religious groups like Catholic Social Services — who serve kids regardless of their race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation — can continue their great work.”
Two foster mothers who joined Catholic Social Services in challenging Philadelphia‘s policy said they were “overjoyed” and appreciated that the justices allowed their work to continue.
“My faith is what drives me to care for foster children here in Philadelphia, and I thank God the Supreme Court believes that’s a good thing, worthy of protection,” said Sharonell Fulton, whose name appears in the lawsuit’s title.
Toni Simms-Busch, who was also part of the lawsuit, said Catholic Social Service’s work is “vital to solving the foster care crisis.”
“The Supreme Court‘s decision ensures the most vulnerable children in the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ have every opportunity to find loving homes,” Ms. Simms-Busch said.
Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, said Catholic charities have been placing children into homes for centuries without discriminating.
“Those agencies have become the latest victim of woke culture as activists seek to push them out of the adoption and foster care space because of their religious values. Those efforts are rooted in an anti-Catholic bigotry that refuses to tolerate pluralistic views and beliefs,” Ms. McGuire said. “Thankfully, the Supreme Court has put an end to efforts to close down and cancel the faith-based agencies whose work on behalf of marginalized children is invaluable.”
Liberal activists said the high court‘s ruling will damage vulnerable children and will not bolster religious liberty.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ organization, said the civil rights group must do more work to ensure that a child’s best interest is always a priority.
“There is more work to be done to ensure that LGBTQ people do not face discrimination anywhere in the country in every aspect of public life. Our next step is to pass the Equality Act,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
The Equality Act, which liberals support, would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Jennifer Kelly, president of the American Psychological Association, said the ruling ignores what is best for children.
“There is extensive research demonstrating that same-sex couples are as capable, supportive and caring as opposite-sex couples. There is also extensive research documenting the discrimination faced by same-sex couples. This decision is damaging to the children who are being denied homes with qualified foster parents,” Ms. Kelly said.