The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case for the rights of Christian adoption and foster care agencies to turn away LGBT couples on grounds of religious beliefs. The court will hear the case brought on behalf of Catholic foster care parents who sued the city of Philadelphia for no longer placing children with Catholic Social Services (CSS) because the organization does not place children in the homes of lesbian or gay couples. The case dates back to 2018 when city officials stopped the placement of children in homes of foster parents affiliated with CSS and Bethany Christian Services. Both organizations prohibited the placement of children with same-sex couples.
While Bethany Christian Services eventually agreed to change policy to continue working with the city, foster parents and others who’ve worked with the Archdiocese filed a legal challenge to the city’s move on grounds that it violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiff Sharronell Fulton had fostered as many as 40 kids during her 25 years of working with Catholic Social Services . Fellow plaintiff Toni Simms-Busch is a former social worker who adopted her foster children through CSS. According to Becket, CSS was the “most successful” foster care agency in the city.
The city stopped partnering with the organization at a time when the city admitted there was an “urgent” need for as many as 300 new foster families with over 6,000 kids in the system. The plaintiffs were defeated in both the federal district and appeals courts. When the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the city, it contended that the First Amendment “did not prohibit government regulation of religiously motivated conduct so long as it was not a veiled attempt to suppress religious beliefs.” The court also rejected that city officials acted out of anti-religious bias as claimed by CSS.
The court reasoned that the city “acted in good faith in its effort to enforce its laws against discrimination.” Lori Windham, a senior counsel, said she was relieved that the Supreme Court will weigh in on faith-based adoption and foster care. “Over the last few years, agencies have been closing their doors across the country, and all the while children are pouring into the system,” Windham said. “We are confident that the Court will realize that the best solution is the one that has worked in Philadelphia for a century, all hands on deck for foster kids.” In a statement, Simms-Busch said she is thankful the court will “sort out the mess that Philadelphia has created for so many foster children.”
“CSS has been a godsend to my family and so many like ours,” Simms-Busch explained. “I don’t think I could have gone through this process without an agency that shares my core beliefs and cares for my children accordingly.” Nationally, a number of municipalities and states have barred foster and adoption agencies from refusing to place children with same-sex couples. Last year, Michigan banned organizations that contract with the state from refusing same-sex couples. Faith-based adoption and foster care agencies in states like Massachusetts, California, Illinois and the District of Columbia have halted their adoption services because of such rules.
Grazie Christie, from for The Catholic Association, said she expects the Supreme Court “will protect the rights of Americans motivated by their faith to help children.” “Government should let good people do good things, and not make violating their beliefs the price of doing good work,” Christie stressed. The Supreme Court will hear at least three other religious freedom-related cases this year. One involves a Christian-owned funeral home owner who faced action from the Equal Opportunity Commission for firing a transgender employee for refusing to wear clothing that corresponds with the employee’s birth sex. In 2018, the Sixth Court of Appeals ruled against the funeral home owner.
The Supreme Court will also hear two other cases, both dealing with sexual orientation discrimination. If the Supreme Court rules that discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal, churches, religious schools, and religious social service providers will be exposed to potentially massive liability. “This applies to, any religious organization that expects its employees to follow their religious standards of conduct.” The Supreme Court is also weighing whether to hear the case of Christian florist Barronelle Stutzman who was fined by the state of Washington for refusing to make a floral arrangement for the same-sex wedding of one of her long-time customers.
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