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Supreme Court appears poised to protect Catholic adoption agency’s right not to work with gay couples

'The city can’t stand the message that Catholic Social Services and the Archdiocese are sending by continuing to adhere to the old-fashioned view about marriage,' asserted Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.
Thu Nov 5, 2020 - 3:21 pm EST
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WASHINGTON, D.C., November 5, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The U.S. Supreme Court appears to be ready to rule in favor of a Catholic adoption agency which has sought to preserve its Catholic beliefs in choosing not to work with same-sex couples seeking to provide foster care for children. 

The case puts on trial the clash between religious freedom and laws and policies seeking to assert far-reaching LGBT “rights,” unleashed after the Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling establishing same-sex “marriage” across the land. 

After hearing oral arguments yesterday, court observers sensed that a majority of justices had signalled their support for Philadelphia’s beleaguered Catholic Social Services (CSS).  

This is the first major religious freedom case in which newly seated Supreme Court Justice, Amy Coney Barrett, has joined her eight colleagues to hear.   

“If we are honest about what is really going on here, it’s not about ensuring that same-sex couples in Philadelphia have the opportunity to be foster parents,” said conservative  Justice Samuel Alito. 

“It’s the fact the city can’t stand the message that Catholic Social Services and the Archdiocese are sending by continuing to adhere to the old-fashioned view about marriage,” asserted Alito. 

Justice Brett Kavanaugh called the city’s position “absolutist” and “extreme” and that it appears as if Philadelphia was “looking for a fight.”

“By the time [Chief Justice] Roberts announced, shortly before noon on Wednesday, that the argument was over, it appeared that CSS and the foster parents likely would be able to garner at least five votes for a ruling in their favor, even if it wasn’t clear what the basis for such a ruling might be,” wrote court observer Amy Howe.

In Fulton v. Philadelphia, Philadelphia foster moms Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch are defending the faith-based agency that brought their families together. Starting in 2018, the City of Philadelphia began targeting and threatening to shut down Catholic Social Services (CSS) unless it violates its sincere beliefs. 

In March 2018—and just days after putting out a call for 300 more foster families—the City of Philadelphia stopped allowing foster children to be placed with families who work with CSS. Philadelphia argued that the Catholic agency had to either endorse and certify same-sex relationships or close down. The City did this despite the fact that—for the over 100 years CSS had served the City—not a single same-sex couple had sought foster care certification from CSS. Indeed, no couple has ever been prevented from fostering or adopting a child in need because of CSS’s religious beliefs.  

What’s at stake in Fulton v. Philadelphia?

“The cloud currently hanging over the future of church-state cooperation was predicted by Obergefell v. Hodges, which ruled that the 14th Amendment guarantees the right to same-sex marriage,” explained Helen M. Alvaré, professor of law at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. 

“Many Christians hold that marriage must reflect a Creator’s making men and women sexually complementary and the sole source of new life,” said Alvaré.  “They hold that they are powerless to change marriage, and that this understanding of the family uniquely reveals features of God’s love and the ways in which human beings are commanded to love all others.”

Alvaré continued:

If Fulton is resolved such that these beliefs regularly foreclose the participation of many Christian nonprofits in the public square, communities will look very different in the future; Christians are inspired by the faith to offer countless charitable services. 

Such a resolution would be particularly troubling in the foster care field. It would communicate that adults’ interests and demands take priority over children’s needs. This characterizes the “bad old days” of foster care, when some opportunists misused the system to provide adults with children to work as subsidized labor. Foster care reforms flipped this paradigm, orienting the system to find parents for children in need, versus providing children to adults in want. 

But Philadelphia’s argument that the foster care system is a “public accommodation” – like movies, restaurants and hotels – that must be available to certain adults, is a return to an “adults first” paradigm. Philadelphia even refused to place children with foster families ready and certified by CSS, while publicly declaring a full-blown foster care “emergency,” with 300 children in need of homes.

Far-left activists and activist organizations have rallied behind the city of Philadelphia’s quest to strong-arm the Catholic adoption agency into compromising, if not betraying, its Christian principles. 

Groups supporting the City of Philadelphia against CSS include the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Organization for Women Foundation, the Feminist Majority Foundation, the AFL-CIO, and about two dozen other far-left organizations. 

In a joint amicus brief filed in August, the groups fret that if the court rules in favor of CSS, it would be opening the door to widespread discrimination. They claim that would even include discrimination based on race. 

The group further asserted that a ruling protecting the conscience rights of the Catholic adoption agency “would hit hardest LGBT people of color—a population that is already particularly vulnerable to widespread discrimination, yet is more likely to foster the neediest of children.” 

“LGBT people are seven times more likely to be foster parents than non-LGBT couples, and same-sex couples of color are even more likely to be foster parents than white same-sex couples,” their brief asserts. “Petitioners’ position would also disproportionately harm children of color, as same-sex couples are more likely than different-sex couples to adopt Black children—a group that is already overrepresented in the foster care system.” 

Others opposed to the Catholic adoption agency’s conscience rights include Jesuit Father James Martin, SJ, who suggested today that “Religious liberty should not be used as a cover for homophobia.”   

The important role of faith-based child welfare agencies such as Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services

Faith-based agencies place over 57,000 children in loving homes nationwide each year. Across the country, five major cities and one state have already shut faith-based agencies out of the foster system. Meanwhile, some are saying the U.S. is in the midst of a foster care crisis: there is a shortage of families and a surplus of at-risk children due in part to the opioid epidemic. Religious agencies like CSS are particularly successful at placing high-risk children (those with disabilities, large sibling groups, and older children) in loving families.

A complete list with links to all amicus briefs filed in Fulton v. Philadelphia can be found at SCOTUSblog.com.  

The Court is expected to rule on Fulton v. Philadelphia next year.  


  catholic, catholic social services, fulton v. philadelphia, homosexuality, philadelphia

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