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Federal court rules that Philadelphia may end 50-year relationship with Catholic foster care agency


Courtesy of Becket

Zelda Caldwell - published on 04/25/19

The ruling saw no violation of the First amendment in barring agency because of its policy not to place children with same-sex couples.

A federal appeals court ruled on April 22 that Philadelphia may bar Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from placing children in foster care because of the agency’s long-standing policy not to conduct evaluations of homes where same-sex couples reside.

With this ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit upheld a city policy instituted in March of 2018 to freeze all foster care placements facilitated by the archdiocese’s Catholic Social Services.

According to a report from the Catholic News Service, the Catholic agency, which had worked with the city for over 50 years, served 127 foster children a day, with placements among 100 families at a time.

Sharonell Fulton, a single mother who had fostered over 40 children in 26 years, joined other foster parents in filing a lawsuit against the city.

“As a single mom and woman of color, I’ve known a thing or two about discrimination over the years,” Fulton said. “But I have never known vindictive religious discrimination like this, and I feel the fresh sting of bias watching my faith publicly derided by Philadelphia’s politicians. Today’s court ruling lets Philadelphia continue that religious discrimination.”

Courtesy of Becket

Sharonell Fulton, a single mother and foster parent, joined other foster parents in filing a lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia for ending its relationship with the Catholic foster care agency.

In its decision the court ruled that the city acted legally in “requiring its contractors to abide by its nondiscrimination policies when administering public services.”

“Placing vulnerable children with foster families is without question a vital public service. … Deterring discrimination in that effort is a paramount public interest in its ruling,” it said.

The First Amendment “does not prohibit government regulation of religiously motivated conduct so long as that regulation is not a veiled attempt to suppress disfavored religious beliefs,” it continued. “And while CSS may assert that the city’s actions were not driven by a sincere commitment to equality but rather by anti-religious and anti-Catholic bias — and is of course able to introduce additional evidence as this case proceeds — the current record does not show religious persecution or bias.”

“Instead it shows so far the city’s good faith in its effort to enforce its laws against discrimination,” concluded the decision.

According to Becket, the non-profit, public-interest law firm that represented the foster parents, the need to find foster homes for the 6,000 children who need them is dire. Last year the city put out an urgent call for 300 new families to become foster parents, and then suddenly ended its partnership with Catholic Social Services.

“This ruling is devastating to the hundreds of foster children who have been waiting for a family and to the dozens of parents working with Catholic Social Services who have been waiting to foster a child,” Lori Windham, Becket senior counsel, said in a press release, according to a report in CBN News.

“We’re disappointed that the court decided to let the city place politics above the needs of kids and the rights of parents, but we will continue this fight.”

Religious Freedom
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