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Supreme Court Needs to Reject Religion as Legal Grounds for Discrimination in Foster Care

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February 24, 2020
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The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to hear Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, an appeal by Catholic Social Services (CSS), a taxpayer-funded child welfare agency, which claims a constitutional right to turn away same-sex couples seeking to provide loving homes to children in the public foster care system.

CSS argues that the agency should not have to comply with the City of Philadelphia’s non-discrimination requirements for government contractors because of its religious beliefs. A federal trial court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected CSS’s argument that they have a right to discriminate because of a religious objection to approving families headed by same-sex couples.

Lambda Legal Senior Counsel, Karen L. Loewy issued the following statement:

“By imposing their religious view of what families must look like and seeking to discriminate against same-sex couples, CSS simply hurts the children they claim to serve. Allowing discrimination to limit the number of potential parents for the more than 440,000 children in the foster care system deprives children of loving homes. 

"We also cannot overlook the profound impact on LGBTQ young people, who are overrepresented in the child welfare system, frequently due to issues around rejection by their families of origin on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity, when they receive hurtful messages from child welfare providers insisting that people like them are not good enough or are not deserving of equal treatment and dignity. LGBTQ families and LGBTQ children and young people in state care deserve better.

The Supreme Court has the opportunity to affirm the basic principle that when agencies accept government money to provide services to children involved in the public foster care system, their religious beliefs are not a license to discriminate.”

Lambda Legal submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of itself and nine local, state, and national organizations that serve LGBTQ youth urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a lower court ruling denying Catholic Social Services’ (“CSS”) request that Philadelphia be ordered to place children in CSS’s foster care program while allowing CSS to refuse to recruit and license same-sex couples seeking to foster children in need of loving homes.

For more information on Lambda Legal’s advocacy around this issue, please visit the Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign. Lambda Legal is proud to be founding member of ECDF and co-chair of the ECDF state coalition with Family Equality Council.

Also, read about Rogers v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Marouf v. Azar, Lambda Legal’s cases on behalf of two same-sex couples who were turned away by government-funded, faith-based agencies when they tried to foster children in need.