The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled this week that the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania can force a Catholic adoption agency to close because it refuses to compromise its religious beliefs by placing foster children with same-sex couples. In its lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia, foster parents licensed through the Catholic Social Services sought an order to require the city to renew its contract, arguing that the city’s decision violated its religious freedom under the Constitution.
In March 2018, the city canceled its contracts with Catholic Social Services dues to its religious beliefs about marriage, not long after the city issued an urgent call for 300 families to provide foster care to help care for the flood of children coming into the system due to the opioid crisis. The city then prohibited Catholic Social Services from placing any more children with the families it has certified in order to investigate whether the agency had violated the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, a policy that prohibits “discrimination” on the basis of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.”
Catholic Social Services is an arm of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that has been working with foster children since its founding in 1917. This agency serves about 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time and has never been the subject of discrimination complaints by same-sex couples. The agency says that it assists all children in need, regardless of a child’s race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
There are currently 6,000 foster children in the city of Philadelphia and dozens of families licensed to foster through Catholic Social Services who are willing to take in children. However, as a result of the city’s actions, their beds have remained empty for close to a year.
In Sharonell Fulton, et al. v. City of Philadelphia, several foster parents licensed through Catholic Social Services were plaintiffs in the case, including the late Cecilia Paul, who fostered more than 100 children, and Sharonell Fulton, the lead plaintiff, a single mother who has fostered more than 40 children in 26 years.
Philadelphia is not the only city to refuse to work with a Catholic organization on the issue of foster care and adoption placement. In Buffalo, New York, Catholic Charities recently ceased adoption and foster care work due to rules that would have forced the organization to violate their religious beliefs. Catholic Charities had done work with adoption in Buffalo for nearly a century before the rule change.
Faith-based child welfare providers in multiple states including in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia, have also been forced to shut down their adoption and foster care services in recent years because of the belief that children should be placed with a married mother and father. However, this will increase throughout the nation if HR 5, the so-called “Equality Act,” becomes law.
Faith-based adoption and foster care agencies, including prospective adoptive or foster care parents, will be forced to close and prospective adoptive or foster parents will be ineligible unless they affirm LGBT beliefs and behaviors. This bill threatens the free exercise of religion and free speech, amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected classes throughout the federal code. This amendment applies to employment, housing, rental, public accommodation, and more.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “This ruling by the federal appeals court is a tragedy for children in need and for religious liberty. Tonight, there are children languishing in foster care institutions because the city of Philadelphia elevates the LGBT agenda above the interest of children. If HR 5 passes in Congress, this tragic story will be repeated throughout America.”