The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in a case that will affect whether a foster care provider can continue operating based on its religious beliefs. The case of Fulton, et. al. v. City of Philadelphia began in 2018 when the City of Philadelphia demanded that Catholic Social Services (CSS) change its religious practices or close.
As part of the Catholic Church, CSS believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, and will not place children with same-sex or unmarried couples. CSS indicated that if these couples ever came to them, they would help them find another agency—any of the other 29 in their community. The City stopped all foster care referrals to CSS, even though CSS served all children in need, regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation.
In response to the City’s policy, Becket—a non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute—filed a lawsuit on behalf of Catholic Social Services and foster care mothers Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, who have partnered with CSS and fostered over 45 children. The lower courts upheld the City’s policy, but Becket asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, and the Court did so last week.
During oral arguments, Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, declared, “Religious organizations should be free to serve the public, regardless of their beliefs. The public square is big enough to accommodate everyone who wishes to do good – and that should be especially true when it comes to taking care of children in need.”
Justice Alito got to the root of the issue, stating, “If we are honest about what’s really going on here, it’s not about ensuring that same-sex couples in Philadelphia have the opportunity to be foster parents. 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.”
Even Justice Breyer acknowledged that “what’s actually bothering me quite a lot about this case is I think that no family has ever been turned down by this agency. Indeed, none has ever applied, no gay family, no gay couple.”
The impact of the decision of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia will go far beyond this particular case. Alliance Defending Freedom is representing two faith-based adoption and foster care providers—New Hope Family Services and Catholic Charities West Michigan—that are in similar situations as Catholic Social Services. This case will impact the future of these two ministries and many more faith-based providers across the nation who seek to act according to their faith, and should not be forced by the government to give up their religious beliefs to continue their services.
The Court is expected to reach a decision by the end of June next year.