WASHINGTON - Lawyers representing Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia are appealing to the Supreme Court after the agency was stripped of its contract to provide foster care services for the city for refusing to place children with same-sex couples.
Although the Supreme Court declined to hear the case last year, Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is providing counsel in the case, said that this year is a different story.
“Last year, we made a very unusual emergency request asking the Supreme Court to get involved before the case even been heard in the appeals court,” Windham explained to CNA June 3.
In April, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that city contractors in Philadelphia must place foster children with same-sex couples.
Although the Supreme Court declined the case earlier this year, three members--Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas--dissented from the decision.
Windham said that the minority interest was “encouraging” at the time, and that following the appeals court ruling the case was ready for the higher court’s attention.
“Now is the time for the Supreme Court appeal,” said Windham.
The City of Philadelphia received an allegation in March 2018 that two of the Department of Human Services’ approximately 30 contracted agencies would not place children with same-sex couples as foster parents. After the department investigated, it stopped referring foster children to those agencies.
One of those agencies was Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS), that had been working with foster children since its founding. CSS served approximately 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time and been in operation in the city for more than a century.
At the time the contract was ended, no same-sex couple had ever approached Catholic Social Services seeking a home study or placement, and there are 30 other foster care agencies located in the city which work regularly with same-sex couples.
If a same-sex couple, or an unmarried couple living together, were to have approached Catholic Social Services seeking a home study for foster care, Catholic Social Services would have worked to refer them to another foster care agency, Windham explained.
“[Catholic Social Services] simply cannot provide a written certification for a marriage relationship that is contrary to their beliefs," she said.
Immediately before ending its relationship with Catholic Social Services, Philadelphia officials put out an “urgent call” for 300 new foster families, in part due to the ongoing opioid crisis. Due to its decision to stop working with Catholic Social Services, many eligible, safe foster homes are now empty.
Windham claimed the city was inventing policies specifically to target Catholic Social Services.
“The city is still trying to use city laws and policies--they can't quite tell us which policy, they keep making them up as they go along--the city is making up new policies to try and shut down Catholic Social Services and stop them from caring for foster children as they have done for a century,” she said.
“The city of Philadelphia has engaged in some really disturbing targeting of Catholic beliefs,” said Windham.
“The head of the city agency in charge of foster children told Catholic [Social Services] that it’s not 100 years ago, and that they need to obey the teachings of Pope Francis,” she said.
Pope Francis has said that same-sex marriage “threatens the family” and “disfigures God’s plan for creation.” The pope has also told parents to love their gay children.
Additionally, Philadelphia’s city council “passed a resolution calling this ‘discrimination under the guise of religious freedom,”” said Windham.
“So I think this city has sent a really troubling message to Catholics.”
Windham noted to CNA that the Trump administration had made a series of recent decisions aimed at protecting religious liberty, and highlighted the president’s announcement last month that he would reverse a policy that denied federal funding to adoption organizations that will not work with same-sex couples.
“Unfortunately, the city of Philadelphia did not get the message,” said Windham.