The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has initiated a lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia because the city is refusing to work with a church agency which discriminates against lesbian and gay couples.
Crux reported that Catholic Social Services (CSS), the archdiocese’s social work agency, is the plaintiff in the case and is suing the city for violation of religious freedom, saying that their religious tradition does not allow them to place foster children with lesbian and gay couples. CSS is being represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
The lawsuit stems from an ongoing investigation by the Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services (DHS) into whether or not LGBT families are being discriminated against by Catholic Social Services when it comes to foster care placements. Crux reported:
“The 40-page complaint charges the city is breaching its contract with CSS to at-risk children in foster care homes and is violating religious freedom clauses of the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions.
“At issue is a long-standing practice of CSS not to perform evaluations of the homes of same-sex couples wishing to care for foster children and instead to refer the required process to one of seven other foster agencies contracted by the city’s Department of Human Services.”
“In March DHS froze all new foster care placements with CSS. Since then it has threatened not to renew its annual contract after June 30 unless CSS agrees not to defer evaluations of same-sex households and begin placing foster children in those homes, despite its deeply held objections.”
The Archdiocese believes that the city of Philadelphia is violating the religious freedoms of Catholic Social Services by asking them to place children in the homes of same-sex couples However, Jim Kenney, the Catholic mayor of Philadelphia, argues that the city must investigate the agency to ensure that potential foster parents have their civil rights protected, saying:
“ [We need] to see what the extent of their discrimination is. We cannot use taxpayer dollars to fund organizations that discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or because of their same-sex marriage status.”
Three foster mothers were also named as plaintiffs in the suit, charging that the city’s decision discriminates against them “for their religious beliefs and practices, constitute a breach of contract, unlawfully try to coerce them to speak contrary to their religious beliefs, and restrict (their) religious exercise in violation of state law and the Pennsylvania and U.S. Constitutions,” in the words of the legal complaint. Crux reported on one of these women:
“As a former social worker for the city of Philadelphia, Toni Lynn Simms-Busch knew the spectrum of care provided by foster care agencies. She thought Catholic Social Services was the best of them, and because CSS shared her religious beliefs she works with the agency as she fosters two biological siblings. ‘Fostering is often a very emotionally exhausting process,’ read the lawsuit, and Simms-Busch ‘Could not imagine continuing on this journey without the support she receives from Catholic Social Services.’”
Yet, Catholic Social Services’ ability to be a quality agency is not in dispute. The question for the case is whether along with quality services, they are also serving up discrimination against lesbian and gay people, and at taxpayers’ expense.
In a column in The Philadelphia Inquirer , Ronnie Polaneczky observed that the lawsuit is about much more than LGBT parents who are unable to use Catholic Social Services. However, she goes on to point out that beneath the surface, deeper homophobia is active:
“The disapproval [of LGBT families] is evident in the lawsuit, which has the temerity to characterize the city’s suspension of referrals as ‘political grandstanding.’ What a despicable way to characterize any defense of a same-sex couples’ right to expect treatment equal to that given to a straight couple. And what a telling indication of CSS’s underlying contempt for certain parents who earnestly seek to help a child by fostering.”
Polaneczky further notes that more than 6,000 children are currently in the Philadelphia foster care system, and need stable, loving homes.
A lawyer for CSS said that all people are free to apply to be foster parents, but if the agency chooses not to work with them, it “refers them to one of twenty-six nearby agencies who can better serve their needs.”
Polaneczky made a stinging analogy for this last comment:
“Imagine if an all-white agency said something like that to potential foster parents of color, for example, or if a Jewish agency said it of Catholic applicants. We’d be enraged, especially if the agency – like CSS – took great pains, as CSS has in its lawsuit, to paint its services and supports as superior to those of other fostering agencies. Yet they’d deny these enviable services to same-sex applicants, under the guise of religious liberty.”
Same-sex parents are as eager and as well-qualified as opposite-sex parents to care for children going through the foster system, as many research studies have shown. In a city like Philadelphia, where loving parents are desperately needed, a lawsuit like the one filed by the Archdiocese is detracting from the real need, while continuing to openly discriminate against LGBT people.
–Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, June 7, 2018