SCOTUS Victory for Kids and Religious Freedom

Today, children needing a forever home won at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court unanimously ruled that the city of Philadelphia violated the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against Catholic Social Services, (CSS) a religious foster care agency, in its “nondiscrimination” law.

It’s not often that we get a 9-0 decision and we’re grateful for today’s outcome in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia contracts with agencies for placement of children in foster care. The city’s ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation required that Catholic Social Services place children in same sex households. Catholic Social Services believes that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman. To follow that belief, CSS only places children in households with a married mom and dad.

The city refused to continue contracting with CSS unless they changed their policy – and their religious beliefs on marriage. CSS had to choose between exercising their religious beliefs or placing children in homes pursuant to the city’s dictate.

As the Court wrote:

“CSS seeks only…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.”

The Court unanimously held:

“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.”

Absent this ruling, especially at a time of critical need for foster care families, more children would have been left without a loving home. However, the breadth of today’s ruling remains to be determined.

Proponents, including Center for Arizona Policy, hoped the Court would provide more specific direction on First Amendment cases, especially those related to the Establishment Clause. So did Justices Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch. In a 77-page concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito brilliantly traced the history of the First Amendment religion clauses and court precedent. Scholars and court observers (like me) will take time to thoroughly digest Alito’s effort to educate all on these critical topics.

For now, here’s a snapshot of some of Justice Alito’s opinion:

“The City of Philadelphia has issued an ultimatum to an arm of the Catholic Church: Either engage in conduct that the Church views as contrary to the traditional Christian understanding of marriage or abandon a mission that dates back to the earliest days of the Church – providing for the care of orphaned and abandoned children.” He went on, “… the Court has emitted a wisp of a decision that leaves religious liberty in a confused and vulnerable state. Those who count on this Court to stand up for the First Amendment have every right to be disappointed – as am I.”

Today, we celebrate the victory.

Tomorrow, we begin the wait to see how this decision will apply in many other religious freedom cases.

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