On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously sided with a Philadelphia Catholic foster agency which had opted not to work with same-sex couples when certifying foster parents on the basis of the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage.
While no same-sex couple had ever approached Catholic Social Services, the city had informed them that they would no longer refer children to the agency nor enter into a foster care contract with them unless they agreed to work with LGBT couples.
The justices ruled 9-0 in favor of CSS and the other plaintiffs, foster parents who had also been excluded from being referenced by the city as they had been certified by the faith-based organization.
“CSS 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 in the majority opinion, as Fox News reports.
“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 cannot survive strict scrutiny, and violates the First Amendment.”
Roberts also quoted the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling, in which the high court found that the state of Colorado had discriminated against baker Jack Phillips when finding he had violated state nondiscrimination laws when he declined to bake a cake for a gay wedding.
That case, while certainly victorious for Phillips, fell short of providing U.S. courts with the sorely-needed determination on whether an individual’s First Amendment rights include the right not to engage in activities that promote LGBT lifestyles if it violates their religious consciences.
“[O]ur society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth,” Roberts wrote.
“On the facts of this case, however, this interest cannot justify denying CSS an exception for its religious exercise. The creation of a system of exceptions under the contract undermines the City’s contention that its nondiscrimination policies can brook no departures. The City offers no compelling reason why it has a particular interest in denying an exception to CSS while making them available to others.”
“CSS holds the religious belief that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman,” the ruling also stated. “Because CSS believes that certification of prospective foster families is an endorsement of their relationships, it will not certify unmarried couples — regardless of their sexual orientation — or same-sex married couples.”
Sharonelle Fulton, the named plaintiff and a longtime foster mother who worked with CSS, hailed the ruling.
“I am overjoyed that the Supreme Court recognized the important work of Catholic Social Services and has allowed me to continue fostering children most in need of a loving home,” she said in a statement.
“My faith is what drives me to care for foster children here in Philadelphia and I thank God the Supreme Court believes that’s a good thing, worthy of protection,” she also said.
In a conquering opinion, Justice Samuel Alito noted that it was children in need of caring, safe foster homes who suffered the most under Philadelphia’s refusal to work with the Catholic agency.
“Exemplary foster parents like petitioners Sharonelle Fulton and Toni Lynn Simms-Busch are blocked from providing loving homes for children they were eager to help,” he wrote. “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.”
Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly also noted that the children were most served by the ruling.
“This decision is a victory not just for child welfare providers, but a victory for foster care children who are seeking loving homes,” he said.
This is indeed a major victory for children. No one had ever yet been turned away from the agency due to their sexual orientation, yet CSS was working to put children into the loving homes that were generously opened to them by women like Fulton.
Organizations have a right to minister to children according to their devout faith and should not be forced to surrender their First Amendment freedoms to do so!
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