WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today held arguments in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case involving a taxpayer-funded agency seeking a ruling that could allow private agencies that receive taxpayer-funding to provide government services — such as foster care providers, food banks, homeless shelters, and more — to deny services to people who are LGBTQ, Jewish, Muslim or Mormon.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Pennsylvania, representing the Support Center for Child Advocates and Philadelphia Family Pride, intervened in support of the city, which is being sued by Catholic Social Services, a taxpayer-funded foster care agency that will not accept same-sex couples in violation of the city’s non-discrimination requirement. CSS has asked the court for a constitutional right to discriminate that would allow taxpayer-funded foster care agencies to turn away qualified families who don’t meet their religious test because they are LGBTQ, of a different religion, don’t go to church or any other reason.
“We already have a shortage of foster families. Allowing agencies to turn away families for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability to care for a child would only make it worse,” said Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project. “When an organization chooses to accept taxpayer dollars to provide a government service, it doesn’t have a right to pick and choose who it will serve. The stakes in this case couldn’t be higher for LGBTQ people, who face the possibility of the Supreme Court creating a constitutional right to discriminate against us in every aspect of our lives. And the court could open the door to discrimination in any taxpayer-funded program.”
“For the families in Philadelphia Family Pride, this case is first and foremost about kids. We work with the City of Philadelphia, private agencies that work with children in our foster care system and LGBTQ parents,” said Stephanie Haynes, executive director of Philadelphia Family Pride. “We work together to find members of the LGBTQ community who want to become foster parents to help meet the need. When a foster care agency says no to families based on the agency’s religious beliefs, it denies children families who are willing and able to care for them. When agencies are getting tax dollars to find families for children in foster care, religious beliefs should not come before the needs of the children.”
Some foster care agencies have religious objections to accepting people of different faiths, including the largest taxpayer-funded foster care agency in South Carolina, which accepts only evangelical Protestant Christians and has turned away Jewish and Catholic families. Over 1,000 people and organizations joined friend-of-the-court briefs in opposition to CSS’s claims, including all of the major child welfare groups, clergy and religious organizations representing diverse religious communities, former foster youth, and nearly half of the states and dozens of cities and mayors.