In a case pitting so-called homosexual rights against the conscience rights of a Catholic foster care agency, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of religious freedom, leads to a conservative victory that could shift the balance between LGBTQ rights and the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom.
‘The Court has emitted a wisp of a decision that leaves religious liberty in a confused and vulnerable state,’ claimed Justice Alito. ‘Those who count on this Court to stand up for the First Amendment have every right to be disappointed—as am I.’
In Fulton v. The City of Philadelphia, all nine justices sided with Catholic Social Services (CSS) against the city of Philadelphia in a ruling released this morning.
Catholic Social Services (CSS) claims that its religious beliefs prevent it from considering same-gender couples for foster care. The agency, which has a long history of placing foster children, believed that those opinions should not prevent it from doing its job. Philadelphia argued that sexual orientation discrimination is prohibited in all of its foster care agencies.
CSS will not accept same-sex couples as foster parents because the Catholic organization thinks marriage connects one man and one woman. As a result, Philadelphia had stopped referring children to CSS for foster care. The court had to decide if Philadelphia’s actions violated CSS’s First Amendment rights.
The Catholic agency “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,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court. “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 … violates the First Amendment.”
At a time when there was already an “acute shortage of foster parents,” Justice Alito noted that the city government had threatened the welfare of children awaiting placement in foster homes and “went so far as to prohibit the placement of any children in homes that CSS had previously vetted and approved.”
Justice Alito added, “The City apparently prefers to risk leaving children without foster parents than to allow CSS to follow its religiously dictated policy, which threatens no tangible harm.”
The decision was made earlier than planned, and there was less division. Associate Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, the court’s three liberal members, joined Roberts’ opinion.
“It is striking, and telling, that the court’s more liberal justices joined the court’s decision,” stated Richard Garnett, director of the University of Notre Dame law school program on the church, state, and society. “Today’s ruling illustrates that respect for religious freedom should not be a partisan, or left-right issue.”
Many are hailing the decision as a significant victory.
“With more than 400,000 kids in foster care, we should be doing everything we can to support organizations that connect children in need with loving families. Discriminating against faith-based foster care providers because of their beliefs is not only unconstitutional, it makes it harder to get more kids into the safe, stable homes they deserve,” announced Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. “The Supreme Court’s decision is a victory for religious liberty and for every child in the foster care system.”
“The decision today by the Supreme Court is a substantial win for religious liberty. In a time of growing hostility towards religion the Supreme Court’s reaffirmation of this fundamental freedom is even more critical,” stated Family Research Council President Tony Perkins in a statement.
“Increasingly, the Left refuses to tolerate the slightest deviation from their political orthodoxy regardless of who suffers as a result. While we stop to celebrate and thank God that the Supreme Court reaffirmed religious liberty today, we are fully aware and prepared for the attacks of the Left on this fundamental, God-given freedom to continue unabated,” concluded Perkins.
“The Supreme Court’s decision today is a great win for all children who are in need of a forever home. The staggering number of children in foster care demands an all hands on deck approach that allows for all people, no matter their religious beliefs, to open their homes and their hearts to a son or daughter who needs a family,” said Leigh Fitzpatrick Snead, an adoptive mother, and Fellow for The Catholic Association. “The state should not require foster care agencies to compromise, violate, or abandon their religious beliefs or identities as a condition of serving these children in need.”
Officials in Philadelphia expressed disappointment with a ruling they claimed usurped the city’s judgment “that a non-discrimination policy is in the best interests of the children in its care.” On the other hand, religious groups portrayed the judgment as defending the Catholic agency’s constitutionally protected religious freedom against government overreach.