Supreme Court rules in favor of Christian foster parents

Henrietta Strickland
June 18, 2021

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on Thursday unanimously overturned a lower court ruling regarding the City of Philadelphia barring foster children from being placed with the Catholic Social Services due to its unwillingness to endorse same-sex couples. When the CSS policy was disclosed in press reports, the city ended its contract with CSS for those services in the future. Forcing a Catholic agency to operate in a way that is antithetical to its beliefs would, Alito reasoned, would surely erode religious freedom beyond what the founders intended. Supp. Brief for City Respondents 16-17.

Philadelphia's CSS is far from the only Christian adoption or foster care agency facing the ire of the LGBT activists. Those agencies are "delegated" the power of the government in determining whether individuals satisfy state requirements for becoming foster parents.

There is no record that any same-sex couple has ever asked to work with the agency.

The city's contracts ban discrimination against LGBT couples in the screening of foster parents, but Catholic Social Services, citing religious grounds, has a policy of refusing to consider and certify same-sex couples. For over 50 years, CSS successfully contracted with the City to provide foster care services while holding to these beliefs.

"There had been no complaints against Catholic Social Services", said Lori Windham, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Fulton and Catholic Social Services, told ABC News last October.

Do you mean to tell me that Philadelphia officials only learned about it in 2018?

"The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless it agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents can not survive strict scrutiny, and violates the First Amendment", he added.

In multiple other concurring opinions, justices debated whether the current case's outcomes warrant more action and a potential reversal of Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of OR v. Smith. In 1989, SCOTUS ruled OR could deny unemployment benefits to anyone fired for using peyote even if they used the drug in a religious ritual. In that decision, Scalia wrote for the court that when the government has a "generally applicable" law or regulation and enforces it neutrally, the government's action is presumptively legitimate, even if it has some "incidental" adverse impact on some citizens. The firm also said that Catholic Social Services had not turned away any same-sex couples before the city ended the contracts.

In 1990, the court in Employment Division vs. Smith ruled that free exercise of religion does not provide an exemption from a generally applied law.

"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", he wrote in Fulton vs. City of Philadelphia.

Writing for the court majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said: "The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment". "If it does that, then, voilà, today's decision will vanish - and the parties will be back where they started", he asserted, noting the Court should "reconsider Smith without further delay", as its interpretation of the Free Exercise clause is "hard to defend" and can not be "squared with the ordinary meaning of the text of the Free Exercise Clause or with the prevalent understanding of the scope of the free-exercise right at the time of the First Amendment's adoption".

Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Sonia Sotomayer. Perhaps they were glad to go along with a narrow ruling rather than risk one that changed the law and opened the door even more to discrimination based on religious beliefs.

In Burwell v Hobby Lobby, the court held that the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act violated the rights of a corporation owned by a religious family.

Seven of the nine justices are Catholic or have strong ties to the Catholic church.

Gorsuch also wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment, joined by Thomas and Alito.

Alito wrote in his concurring opinion, with Gorsuch and Thomas, that this case shows it is time to reconsider Smith.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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