Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Whether Religious Agencies Can Reject Gay Foster Parents
The Supreme Court this morning spent two hours debating whether the city of Philadelphia can decline to contract with a Catholic organization to place foster children with families if that organization holds religious objections to allowing same-sex couples to participate.
The complicated case pits the general application of discrimination laws against the boundaries of religious liberty. Based on the lines of questioning today, it’s not entirely clear where the Court’s justices will fall.
The case, Fulton v. Philadelphia, revolves around Catholic Social Services (CSS), which contracts with the city to provide a number of child welfare services. Because of religious objections to same-sex marriage recognition, it does not want to screen or certify gay couples as potential foster families and does not place children with them. This violates Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination laws, and in 2018, the city stopped contracting CSS for this service, though to this date apparently no gay couples have actually come to CSS looking to foster kids.
CSS and foster parents connected to CSS have sued for discrimination, claiming that they are exercising their right to religious expression and demanding that Philadelphia restore the contract. The City of Philadelphia argues that this is not a case of religious discrimination—the rules are being applied neutrally and without animosity toward CSS’s religious beliefs. The city’s lawyers point out that CSS is still getting $26 million in annual funding from Philadelphia for the child services they provide. They’ve only cut off the placement contract.
The questioning today probed many different areas about the business relationship between CSS and Philadelphia. Several justices (including newly seated Justice Amy Coney Barrett) questioned whether CSS was a contractor with the city (giving the city more power to set guidelines) or a license
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