The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has agreed to hear a case that may dramatically change laws regarding religious exemptions from non-discrimination laws.
Fulton v. City of Philadelphia will be heard by the high court during its next session which begins on the first Monday of October 2020. The case originated in the City of Philadelphia’s decision to suspend their contract with Catholic Social Services because that agency refused to place foster children with same-gender and unmarried couples.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, SCOTUS will review an appeals court’s ruling which upheld the City of Philadelphia’s decision to stop contracting with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to place children in foster homes. Catholic Social Services, a branch of the Archdiocese, will not place children with same-gender couples because of the agency’s religious principles. The appeals court ruled that the city was not targeting the agency for religious belief, but rather sought to enforce the city’s non-discrimination policy.
In the process of hearing this case, SCOTUS will have the chance to overturn a 30-year-old decision that does not allow religious exemptions to be permitted if the law was applied generally and neutrally to all. The 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed to supersede the older court decision, however that act only applies to federal agencies, not to state and local ones.
According to The Daily Beast, Fulton is being represented by Becket, the legal group most famously behind the Hobby Lobby case which eventually enabled companies to deny contraception coverage on the basis of the company’s religious ideals. Though the group claims to protect the religious liberty from “Anglican to Zoroastrian,” they have mostly worked on cases enabling discrimination by conservative Christian and Catholic organizations.
The outcome of this case could also have a serious bearing on whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act actually encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to discrimination, a question SCOTUS is taking up in two other lawsuits related to LGBTQ rights. For example, whether it is legal for a religious organization to fire someone for being LGBTQ. Bondings 2.0 recently covered the forced resignation of two LGBTQ teachers at a Catholic high school in Washington. The outcome of the SCOTUS case could have an outcome on wider cases of discrimination such as this one.
But is this case really about religious liberty or about being able to legally discriminate against LGBTQ people. The author of The Daily Beast article, Jay Michaelson, says it most succinctly:
“. . . [N]o one is trying to take away religious freedom; the question is whether that religious freedom can be used to discriminate against someone else. But of course, Becket and organizations like it aren’t really fighting for religious liberty. They’re fighting for religious hegemony; they want LGBTQ and women’s rights to be less equal than, say, civil rights.”
Unfortunately, caught in the crossfire of this case are vulnerable children needing a home. NewNowNext cites Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties UnionLGBT and HIV Project, who says that the case could affect the more than 400,000 kids in foster care nationwide:
“We already have a severe shortage of foster families willing and able to open their hearts and homes to these children. Allowing foster care agencies to exclude qualified families based on religious requirements that have nothing to do with the ability to care for a child, such as their sexual orientation or faith, would make it even worse.”
By maintaining a discriminatory policy, what message is Catholic Social Services sending to children, who may have an LGBTQ family member or maybe questioning their identities themselves? It is saying that LGBTQ people are not as capable or deserving of love and care as a heterosexual or cisgender person. So not only does this policy harm loving couples and children in need, but it harms all LGBTQ youth who hear a church urge discrimination against them. But another path is possible. LGBTQ advocates have welcomed Philadelphia’s new archbishop, Nelson Perez as a “breath of fresh air.” Bondings 2.0 has called on Archbishop Perez, to make a gesture of reconciliation with the city’s LGBTQ community by withdrawing from this suit. Now would be a good time to do so.
—Melissa Feito, New Ways Ministry, March 3, 2020