The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled recently that the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania can force a Catholic adoption agency to close because it refuses to compromise its religious beliefs by placing foster children with same-sex couples. In its lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia, foster parents licensed through the Catholic Social Services sought an order to require the city to renew its contract, arguing that the city’s decision violated its religious freedom under the Constitution.
In March 2018, the city canceled its contracts with Catholic Social Services due to its religious beliefs about marriage, not long after the city issued an urgent call for 300 families to provide foster care to help care for the flood of children coming into the system due to the opioid crisis. The city then prohibited Catholic Social Services from placing any more children with the families it has certified in order to investigate whether the agency had violated the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, a policy that prohibits “discrimination” on the basis of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.”
Catholic Social Services is an arm of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that has been working with foster children since its founding in 1917. This agency serves about 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time and has never been the subject of discrimination complaints by same-sex couples. The agency says that it assists all children in need, regardless of a child’s race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
There are currently 6,000 foster children in the city of Philadelphia and dozens of families licensed to foster through Catholic Social Services who are willing to take in children. However, as a result of the city’s actions, their beds have remained empty for close to a year.
In Sharonell Fulton, et al. v. City of Philadelphia, several foster parents licensed through Catholic Social Services were plaintiffs in the case, including the late Cecilia Paul, who fostered more than 100 children, and Sharonell Fulton, the lead plaintiff, a single mother who has fostered more than 40 children in 26 years.