Catholic Foster Parents Sue City of Philadelphia for Religious Discrimination

Queering the Bible

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the City of Philadelphia for cutting off Catholic Social Services from foster parent placements because of its religious beliefs regarding the nature of marriage.

In March, Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services ceased new foster care placements with Catholic Social Services and another faith-based agency, Bethany Christian Services, after an investigation into the city’s partnership with organizations that do not place foster children with LGBTQ couples.

The city also announced its intention to terminate its contract with Catholic Social Services at the end of June because of its beliefs about same-sex marriage.

Philadelphia’s actions “discriminate against Plaintiffs for their religious beliefs and practices, constitute a breach of contract, unlawfully try to coerce them to speak contrary to their religious beliefs, and restrict Plaintiffs’ religious exercise in violation of state law and the Pennsylvania and U.S. Constitutions,” the 40-page complaint states.

Becket filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Sharonell Fulton and other foster parents affiliated with Catholic Social Services who are adversely affected by Philadelphia’s decision.

Fulton has been a foster parent over the past 20 years, opening her home to over 40 children. According to the civil complaint:

Ms. Fulton shares the religious beliefs of Catholic Social Services. As an African American woman, Ms. Fulton has experienced discrimination in her life. It is insulting and hurtful for her to observe the government of the city in which she lives needlessly denigrate and publicly condemn her own religious beliefs in such a discriminatory fashion.

The court filing offers similar descriptions of a number of foster parents who have generously served children in need of foster care. The city is guilty of prioritizing “political grandstanding over the needs of children,” the complaint declares.

Not long before announcing its decision to cut ties with Catholic Social Services, Philadelphia officials issued a public service announcement expressing the city’s urgent need for 300 foster families.

The lawsuit notes that Catholic Social Services has partnered with the City for decades to place foster children in stable, loving homes and has “a proven track record of compassion, quality, and success.” On an average day, Catholic Social Services “serves more than 120 children in foster care, and it supervises around 100 different foster homes,” it says, for a total service of more than 2,200 at-risk children in Philadelphia last year alone.

In substance, the complaint states, the city “is penalizing Catholic Social Services, in violation of its contract and state and federal law, because the agency has Catholic beliefs about same-sex marriage.”

The Philadelphia City Council acknowledged as much when it passed a resolution in March stating that some foster services providers “have policies that prohibit the placement of children with LGBTQ people based on religious principles” and calling for an investigation.

At that time, a local news agency cited Philadelphia’s Mayor Jim Kenney as saying, “we cannot use taxpayer dollars to fund organizations that discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or because of their same-sex marriage status. It’s just not right.”

Just last week, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill protecting private adoption agencies from coercion, discrimination, or punishment as they help orphans find homes with a mom and a dad.

Bill 1140, drafted by Republican Sen. Greg Treat, provides legal protections to faith-based agencies that will not place children in homes with same-sex couples because of religious or moral convictions.

Predictably, the establishment media, including APReutersCNN, and NBC News, all highlighted LGBT opposition to the bill, rather than its emphasis on putting children first and protecting religious liberty.

The trend to attack Christian organizations and individuals for their opposition to gay marriage provides a telling confirmation of the prophetic words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in his 2015 dissent on the Obergefell v. Hodges case, which imposed same-sex marriage on the country.

When the Court issued its ruling, the four dissenting justices foresaw that the decision would be used as a stick with which to beat those who uphold traditional marriage, and their predictions have already come true.

In his dissent, Justice Alito predicted that the ruling would be employed “to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”

The majority decision paid lip service to the rights of conscience of those who disagreed with the ruling, to which Alito responded with skepticism.

“I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools,” he warned.

The case is Fulton v. City of Philadelphia in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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