Philly Archbishop Calls on SCOTUS to Uphold Catholic Church’s First Amendment Rights

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Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Pérez has called on the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Catholic Church’s constitutional right to run foster care services in accord with its teaching on marriage.

In 2018, the city of Philadelphia stopped referring children in need of foster care to Catholic Social Services because of the Church’s unwillingness to place children with same-sex couples, leading to a lawsuit for the city’s violation of religious freedom.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a religious liberty case that focuses on the right of faith-based social service agencies to provide care according to their religious beliefs.

In his November 3 op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Archbishop Pérez said that thanks to the city’s actions, “the homes of our foster families remain painfully empty” and the Church’s “centuries-old enterprise on behalf of this city’s most vulnerable children is in jeopardy.”

The issue in the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia is whether the city violated the religious freedom rights of Sharonell Fulton, a longtime foster mom, and Catholic Social Services when it decided that the latter “could no longer place foster children in loving homes unless it also provided written certifications for same-sex couples, contrary to its religious beliefs about marriage,” the archbishop wrote.

The city has argued that the Catholic Church “lost its First Amendment rights” when it partnered with the city to provide foster-care services, he noted.

“Essentially, we are being told that the Catholic Church must leave its faith at the door if it wants to serve those in need,” the archbishop added. “But our faith compels us to do this work, and we have a right to conduct ourselves according to the tenets of our faith.”

“My hope is that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of upholding the Catholic Church’s First Amendment rights,” he said.

As Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, noted recently, the Catholic Church “pioneered foster care in Philadelphia, 150 years before the government got involved.”

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