Last week Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that Catholic Social Services can lawfully continue to enforce discriminatory practices in their provision of foster care services and maintain their contract with the city of Philadelphia. The main argument for this ruling was that the denial of CSS’s refusal to serve LGBTQ+, Jewish, Muslim, or Mormon couples is a violation of the First Amendment right concerning religion.
After the Philadelphia Inquirer released a story on how CSS does not cater to LGBTQ+ prospective parents, the city had announced that they would revoke their contract with CSS unless they opened up their services to all qualified couples, stating that the organization’s actions were a violation of their contract as well as Philadelphia’s nondiscrimination policies. The city won in a unanimous lower-court decision by the Third Court of Appeals, but the subsequent Supreme Court hearing requested by the foster care agency completely turned the tables.
The Court held that “The City’s actions burdened CSS’s religious exercise” and their demands were not “generally applicable” because a line in their contract grants exceptions by the discretion of the Commissioner of Human Services. This meant that the case could not be exempted from the oversight of the First Amendment. Fulton v. Pennsylvania may be another instance that stands as evidence of the system failing minorities, especially in favor of religious organizations, and especially in favor of Christian groups.
This is such a disappointing ruling from SCOTUS in Fulton v. Philadelphia.
This case isn't about religious freedom — it's about discrimination against LGBTQ+ families who want to give foster children a loving home. Congress must respond by immediately passing the Equality Act. pic.twitter.com/LZEPxZyatw
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) June 17, 2021
Though the argument stands that the case itself may not necessarily be an attack on LGBTQ rights because part of the ruling was based on an interpretation of the contract, it is without a doubt a step back that reminds the queer community that their rights are not prioritized by the laws in this country, and that the protection of such rights is often contingent upon religion. This is certainly not the first time this has happened.
A similar bill in Oklahoma allowed religious foster care agencies to provide services only in alignment with their religious ideologies, which meant highly qualified same-sex couples and possibly unmarried couples could be denied adoption opportunities. Governor Mary Fallin said ironically that “the bill will help continue Oklahoma’s successful placement of children with a broad array of loving families” with practices in “the best interest of Oklahoma children” despite permitting organizations to deny access to more qualified families.
Oklahoma @GovMaryFallin just signed into law #SB1140, a dangerous bill that would allow publicly funded adoption orgs to discriminate against same-sex couples, single mothers and interfaith couples. https://t.co/V1QmjTBYJo
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) May 12, 2018
One of the most pressing issues that bar children in need of families from being adopted is the shortage of capable prospective parents that are willing to take care of another child. An organization that turns down perfectly suitable parents because of religion cannot claim to do their best to find homes for their children; these children are instead more likely to find a loving home much later than if the ban wasn’t enforced – or they may never find one at all. Foster children are released on their own with meager guidance as soon as they turn 18, which makes them less likely to secure financial stability.
This victory for CSS is also not the first time conservatives have gone to great lengths to force Christianity into politics and thereby infringe upon the rights of minority groups. In what is dubbed “Project Blitz“, a coalition of far-right, Christian nationalist organizations have been influencing legislation to adopt Christian principles into U.S. law, such as by mandating bills decorated with the slogan, “In God We Trust,” which has been used to reinforce the goals of these organizations. Other, more damaging bills have been introduced in suspected accordance with Project Blitz, including ones that discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
Therefore as the far-right continues to impose its ideals on legislation(though we have yet to see for sure whether the Biden administration will deter this progress), the preservation of LGBTQ rights remains a difficult battle. This casts more doubt on how potent America’s judicial system is in protecting citizens’ rights, particularly those of minorities, and confirms the dominance of Christianity in a nation with one of its fundamental founding principles being the separation of church and state. As a consequence of Thursday’s decision, religiously-affiliated organizations will now gain more confidence in their ability to discriminate on the basis of their “faith”.