The Supreme Court on Thursday decided unanimously in favor of Catholic Social Services in its lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia, ruling that the city violated the group’s free exercise of religion.
The case – Fulton v. City of Philadelphia – concerns the largest city in Pennsylvania ending its foster care contracts with Catholic Social Services because the faith-based agency said it would not certify same-sex couples to be foster parents; the agency’s policy was religious, due to the Church’s teachings on marriage and family. The agency also does not certify unmarried couples as foster parents, regardless of their sexual orientation.
The city argued that the policy constituted discrimination according to its nondiscrimination ordinance, and would no longer work with the group.
In the majority ruling, the high court found that “The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”
One legal expert said the ruling was significant for religious freedom.
Professor Richard Garnett, a First Amendment expert, said the ruling “will have significant impact.”
“It is striking, and telling, that the Court’s more liberal justices joined the Court’s decision,” Garnett noted. “Today’s ruling illustrates that respect for religious freedom should not be a partisan, or left-right issue. All nine justices agree that, when a rule targets religious practices for disapproval, or singles our religious exercise for burdens, it is highly suspect.”