This news didn’t get much attention on Monday. But it could be a very big deal:
On Monday, the Supreme Court announced it would take up a case involving a Roman Catholic adoption agency denied taxpayer funding and placement opportunities because of its religious beliefs on marriage and sexuality. In Philadelphia v. Fulton, the City of Philadelphia cut ties with the Catholic Social Services (CSS) foster care system over the organization’s refusal to place children in foster care with same-sex or unmarried couples. While the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city, the agency claims this violated its First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and free speech.
LGBT activists and state and local governments have targeted religious foster care and adoption agencies, claiming that they discriminate against same-sex couples and should therefore be excluded from the adoption process or lose any taxpayer funding for their work. They would force these agencies out of the market, leaving fewer options for needy children.
“I’m relieved to hear that the Supreme Court will weigh in on faith-based adoption and foster care,” Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, the religious freedom law firm representing Catholic Social Services, said in a statement. “Over the last few years, agencies have been closing their doors across the country, and all the while children are pouring into the system. 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.”
…Across the country, five major cities and one state have already shut faith-based agencies out of the foster care system, even though there is a shortage of families and a surplus of at-risk children due in part to the opioid epidemic. According to Becket, religious agencies like CSS are particularly successful at placing high-risk children in loving families.
“There’s no reason to single out and punish adoption providers who are motivated by their sincerely held religious beliefs that the best home for a child includes a mother and father,” Keisha Russell, counsel at First Liberty Institute, explained. “When the government decides whose faith is or is not acceptable, we all lose.”
Meanwhile, the ACLU has expressed its own concerns:
Leslie Cooper, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Supreme Court’s decision in the case would affect many families.
“This case could have profound consequences for the more than 400,000 children in foster care across the country,” she said. “We already have a severe shortage of foster families willing and able to open their hearts and homes to these children. Allowing foster care agencies to exclude qualified families based on religious requirements that have nothing to do with the ability to care for a child such as their sexual orientation or faith would make it even worse.”
In a Supreme Court brief, the agency agreed that the legal questions before the justices were enormously consequential.
“Here and in cities across the country, religious foster and adoption agencies have repeatedly been forced to close their doors, and many more are under threat,” the brief said. “These questions are unavoidable, they raise issues of great consequence for children and families nationwide, and the problem will only continue to grow until these questions are resolved by this court.”