A judge has ruled that the city of Philadelphia was justified in asking faith-based social service providers to follow local non-discrimination laws.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services (CSS) filed a breach of contract lawsuit against the city in June claiming that the agency should be allowed to deny services to LGBT potential foster parents. Officials with the city’s Department of Human Services had said social service providers must abide by the Fair Practices Ordinance, which protects LGBT people, in order to be contracted by the city.
Most recently, CSS sought a temporary restraining order that would allow the agency to continue working on its city foster care contract while the suit was being adjudicated. But Judge Petrese B. Tucker of the U.S. District Court denied that request and defended the city’s practice. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
“The Department of Human Services had a legitimate interest in ensuring ‘that the pool of foster parents and resource caregivers is as diverse and broad as the children in need of foster parents,’ Tucker wrote in a decision Friday denying CSS’s request for a temporary restraining order to resume its work for the city. . .
“She noted that testimony indicated that CSS could be in violation of another aspect of the ordinance, one unaffiliated with this case. CSS’s [head of foster care services James] Amato had testified that his organization requires a letter from a clergy member from all interested foster parents. The denomination of the sender does not matter but Tucker called the condition problematic. ‘This evidence is disconcerting to the court because it raises serious constitutional as well as contractual questions,’ Tucker wrote.”
Advocates for the city and LGBT rights welcomed the ruling. City spokesperson Deana Gamble said it was important that “services are accessible to all Philadelphians who are qualified for the services,” and commented:
“‘Regrettably, by refusing to certify same-sex couples, CSS is ruling out qualified families who are willing to provide care for children in need, who can be certified, and who have roots in this community. ‘”
Looking more broadly, the ACLU of Pennsylvania released a statement suggesting this ruling could have a wider impact on similar cases nationally where there are questions about competing claims of religious liberty and non-discrimination as they relate to social services. Hopefully, Judge Tucker’s ruling will have such broader implications in defense of LGBT people’s rights to be foster and adoptive parents for children who desperately need loving homes.
In April, the city of Philadelphia cut ties with CSS and another agency, Bethany Christian Services, after reports that both agencies were discriminating against same-gender couples seeking to welcome foster children into their home. The latter agency has now changed its policies to be in line with the Fair Practices Ordinance. But reimbursements for CSS’ foster care services, which totaled $1.7 million in 2017, will not continue. Some exceptions to the contract’s cancellation include continued reimbursements for children already placed by CSS and children who have siblings in CSS-certified homes. Other contracts CSS has with the city will continue.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, which includes three foster parents as well as CSS, said they plan to appeal the ruling and called the city’s actions “discriminatory.” They claim that having to certify same-gender couples as providing a safe home would violate their religious liberty. In his testimony, Amato threatened to end foster care services if CSS’ contract with the city was not renewed.
City officials should be bolstered by Judge Tucker’s ruling not to cede to Amato’s threat. In Philadelphia, the Department of Human Services has custody for 6,000 children and works with some 29 agencies to place them in homes. While CSS likely does quality work, as many Catholic social service providers do, the city is not dependent on it and should not allow LGBT discrimination.
CSS may follow the path of other Catholic agencies, like those in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., who ended foster care and adoptive services over the issue of LGBT parents. This would be a shameful course of action. Where Jesus said let the children come to me and be loved, CSS harms kids in favor discriminating against LGBT people.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 17, 2018