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Supreme Court of the United States

Faith-Based Foster Care Provider Wins at SCOTUS—What That Means for Barronelle

June 17, 2021

In 2018, the City of Philadelphia froze all referrals to foster families working with Catholic Social Services, and the timing was peculiar. Just days before, the City had issued an urgent call for 300 more foster parents. Surely, Catholic Social Services could have played a key role in helping meet this need. After all, in the previous year, the faith-based agency placed 226 children in loving foster homes while overseeing 100 foster families every day.

But the City of Philadelphia had an agenda. And it decided that this agenda was more important than serving the needs of vulnerable children.

You see, the city began requiring foster care providers to place children with same-sex couples. But because Catholic Social Services operates consistently with the Catholic Church’s teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman, it couldn’t agree to that new requirement.

So, Catholic Social Services—along with Sharonell Fulton, who has cared for more than 40 foster children in the past 25 years—filed a lawsuit against the City.

And today, they got some huge news. The United States Supreme Court issued a big win for religious freedom in their case Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. This means that the City cannot exclude Catholic Social Services and Sharonell from serving the children and families in their communities because of their religious beliefs. Praise God!

But this important victory could have even more far-reaching implications.

Alliance Defending Freedom currently represents New Hope Family Services, a New York pregnancy resource center and adoption provider, and Catholic Charities West Michigan, one of Michigan’s oldest and largest foster care and adoption providers. Much like Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia, these agencies have faced government attempts to shut down their ministries if they don’t compromise their religious beliefs about marriage.

But today’s decision from the Supreme Court should provide the fuel they need to win their cases in the lower courts.

And while it may seem obvious that similar faith-based providers would be impacted by this ruling, Fulton could set the stage for the Court to take the case of another longtime ADF client: Barronelle Stutzman.

But how can a floral artist from Washington state be affected by a Supreme Court win for a faith-based foster care provider?

As you may know by now, Barronelle was targeted by her state government after politely declining to design custom floral arrangements celebrating a longtime customer’s same-sex wedding. And her case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court for the second time. But by ruling in favor of Catholic Social Services and Sharonell Fulton under existing caselaw, the Court could now be more likely to take Barronelle’s case and rule on some big legal questions that Fulton left unresolved. Doing so is more important than ever, as states continue to target people of faith like Barronelle and Jack Phillips, who have been dragged through the courts for years. Now, states have expanded their attacks against religious liberty to Gospel missions who, under a recent Washington Supreme Court ruling, do not even have the right to hire those who share their Christian beliefs.

The State of Washington trying to force Barronelle to participate in an event that conflicts with her faith was just the beginning. But the government should protect religious freedom, not threaten it.

It remains to be seen what the high court will do, but in the meantime, please keep Barronelle and her case in your prayers. And be sure to sign up for our newsletter to find out what the Supreme Court decides.

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Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defending Freedom

Non-profit organization

Alliance Defending Freedom advocates for your right to freely live out your faith


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