This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in favor of a Catholic adoption agency in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a closely watched case with major implications for religious adoption agencies and nonprofit organizations.
“The ruling today is an incredible victory for religious freedom,” said NRB CEO Troy A. Miller. “The court once again recognized that the First Amendment protects the rights of people of faith from government overreach, and did so unanimously. This is a win both for faith-based adoption agencies and for the communities and children they serve.”
How did this case begin?
For Philadelphia, foster care is carried out by the city but the city contracts with outside organizations to screen potential foster care parents. One of those organizations is Catholic Social Services (CSS). The CSS is a religious-based organization that seeks to “serve the most vulnerable and most at-risk members of society.” One of their most prominent functions is foster care.
In 2018, the city refused to continue their contract with CSS, which is a taxpayer-funded agency, because they believe CSS were discriminatory in their refusal to screen same-sex couples. As a religious organization, CSS believes that marriage is between a man and woman. CSS sued the city for violating its first amendment rights under the free exercise clause of the Constitution.
In July of 2018, the district court sided with the City stating that the city did not violate CSS’s first amendment rights. The United States Court of Appeals, third circuit, affirmed the district court’s opinion. CSS appealed to the Supreme Court, and they agreed to hear the case.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed an Amicus Curiae brief on behalf of the city and same-sex couples. The former Department of Justice under the Trump Administration voiced their support for the Catholic Foster Care agency.
What did the court decide?
The justices were asked to decide whether the City of Philadelphia violated the First Amendment rights of CSS by forcing them to screen potential same-sex foster care parents.
In a surprisingly unanimous decision, the Supreme Court sided with CSS, therefore, reversing the lower court’s decision.
Chief Justice John Roberts stated, “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.”
What does this case mean going forward?
Fulton v. City of Philadelphia is a decisive victory for people of faith. Most importantly, it’s a victory for vulnerable children, allowing religious organizations to participate in meeting real human needs. In a case that many thought could go either way, all nine justices came to the same decision, unquestionably reaffirming the rights of religious organizations under the First Amendment of the Constitution.