The ruling has broader implications for allowing taxpayer-funded groups, such as foster care and homeless services, to deny help based on “religious freedom.”
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of faith-based foster agency Catholic Social Services in a case that has significant implications for LGBTQ foster parents as well as taxpayer-funded groups’ ability to discriminate against queer people or other faiths based on “religious freedom.”
The case centers around two local foster agencies that the city of Philadelphia found would not work with same-sex couples as foster parents in 2018. The city deemed this a violation of their anti-discrimination policies, and stopped referring foster kids to those agencies. One agency, Catholic Social Services, sued the city, saying it was violating its First Amendment rights and demanding the city continue working with it even as it turned away gay couples as foster parents.
In a decision released Thursday, the court held that Philadelphia’s refusal to contract with CSS violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, which protects a person’s right to freely exercise their religion. The ruling requires the city of Philadelphia to renew its contract with CSS.
Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the opinion of the court, writing that Philadelphia’s actions “burdened CSS’s religious exercise by forcing it either to curtail its mission or to certify same-sex couples as foster parents in violation of its religious beliefs.”
The court ruled that the nondiscrimination requirement in Philadelphia’s foster care contract doesn’t apply to the CSS case because that requirement permits discretionary exceptions.
“No matter the level of deference we extend to the City, the inclusion of a formal system of entirely discretionary exceptions … renders the contractual nondiscrimination requirement not generally applicable,” Roberts wrote.