The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a case brought by a Catholic foster care agency in Philadelphia threatened with losing a government contract because of its ban on same-sex parents.
CNN reports: “Catholic Social Services, the agency at the center of the case, argues that Philadelphia violated its free exercise rights when it froze its contract because the group cannot ‘make foster certifications inconsistent with its religious beliefs about sex and marriage.’ The city says that it is governed by the City’s Fair Practices Ordinance that precludes discrimination based on sexual orientation.”
The AP adds: “The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled the city did not target the agency because of its religious beliefs but acted only to enforce its own nondiscrimination policy in the face of what seemed to be a clear violation.”
In March of 2018, the City of Philadelphia (“the City”) learned that Catholic Social Services (“CSS”), a faith-based child placing agency contracted with the City of Philadelphia, would not certify same-sex couples as foster parents because of their religious beliefs, in violation of both CSS’s contract to provide foster care services and the City’s Fair Practice Ordinance.
The City sent CSS a letter indicating that they would no longer make referrals to religious organizations that discriminated against LGBTQ foster parents. CSS did not agree to comply and the City stopped intake of new placements of children into CSS’s care.
CSS sued the City, together with Sharonell Fulton and other foster parents working with CSS, requesting that the court order the City to reopen intake to CSS. On July 13, 2018, a federal district court denied CSS’s motion, rejecting the argument that faith-based child welfare agencies have a right to discriminate. CSS appealed this ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Allowing CSS to discriminate against LGBTQ people would send a government-endorsed stigmatic message to LGBTQ youth that they are not worthy to be parents or have a right to equal treatment in the provision of government services. Requiring nondiscrimination in foster care system is consistent with and, in fact, mandated by the City’s legal obligation to ensure the wellbeing of LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system.
The case will be argued this fall.