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SCOTUS takes up case over Philadelphia's move to exclude Catholic ministry from foster program over marriage views

'CSS has been serving Philadelphia foster children for more than a century'

MOLLY RILEY/AFP via Getty Images

In a list of orders issued Monday morning, the Supreme Court announced that it would take up the case that asks whether a Catholic organization can be excluded from Philadelphia's foster care program because of its views on marriage and morality.

The case in question deals with the city of Philadelphia's 2018 decision to end its foster program contract with Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The reason? In accordance with Catholic teaching on marriage and the family, the organization would not place children with same-sex couples, which violated the city's nondiscrimination policy.

In response, the city stopped referring children to CSS. In turn, CSS took the matter to court claiming that the city's decision had violated its religious liberty rights.

In April 2019, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against CSS, saying, "The City's non-discrimination policy is a neutral, generally applicable law, and the religious views of CSS do not entitle it to an exception from that policy."

"CSS has been serving Philadelphia foster children for more than a century," the ministry's petition to be heard by the Supreme Court says. "But its foster care services are being shut down by the City of Philadelphia because the City disagrees with the Archdiocese about marriage. As a Catholic agency, CSS cannot provide written endorsements for same-sex couples which contradict its religious teachings on marriage."

The petition also notes that the ministry's beliefs haven't stopped anyone from getting into a foster home, arguing that "Philadelphia has a diverse array of foster agencies, and not a single same-sex couple approached CSS about becoming a foster parent between its opening in 1917 and the start of this case in 2018"

In addition to Catholic Social Services, the case is also being brought by Philadelphia foster mothers Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch. Fulton has fostered more than 40 children over the course of 25 years and Simms-Busch recently adopted the kids she fostered through CSS, according to case briefing materials from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the petitioners in the case.

"Both mothers chose CSS because the agency shares their most deeply held values and beliefs, and both have relied heavily on CSS's support during their foster care journey," a Monday news release said.

Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, said in statement that she was "relieved to hear that the Supreme Court will weigh in on faith-based adoption and foster care" and that "over the last few years, agencies have been closing their doors across the country, and all the while children are pouring into the system."

In a twitter thread following the court's order, Windham said this is the first such adoption or foster care case to get all the way to the Supreme court, as "most agencies shut down before the case reaches this level."

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