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U.S. Supreme Court

This Supreme Court Case on Foster Care Could Have Big Implications for 3 ADF Cases

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
October 28, 2020

In 2017, Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia placed 226 children in loving foster homes while overseeing 100 foster families every day.

But in 2018, that all came to an abrupt halt.

Just days after the City of Philadelphia issued an urgent call for 300 more foster parents, it cut ties with Catholic Social Services and the 100 different foster families that it serves.

Why the mixed messages?

Well, Catholic Social Services operates consistently with the Catholic Church’s teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman. And the City of Philadelphia doesn’t agree with this viewpoint. In fact, the city now requires foster care providers to place children with same-sex couples, regardless of their beliefs.

It didn’t matter that Catholic Social Services was one of 30 other licensed foster care providers, many of which will happily certify same-sex couples as foster parents. It didn’t matter that no same-sex couples had ever asked to be evaluated by Catholic Social Services.

And, apparently, it also didn’t matter that it’s the vulnerable children in foster care who are ultimately harmed by Philadelphia’s anti-religious bigotry.

That’s why Catholic Social Services filed a lawsuit against the City. And next week, on November 4, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear its case: Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. Our friends at Becket will be arguing on behalf of Catholic Social Services as well as Philadelphia foster parent Sharonell Fulton, who has cared for more than 40 foster children in the past 25 years.

When the Supreme Court hears this case, it will be evaluating a legal test that was established decades ago in a case called Employment Division v. Smith. Under this test, it isn’t enough for a religious person or organization to prove that a law burdens their right to the free exercise of religion. Courts applying the test have also required them to prove that the law was motivated by hostility toward religion or that it singles out religious people for disfavored treatment. If they can’t prove that, then the government never has to prove how a law that burdens free exercise is justified. And that’s true no matter how heavy the burden on religious freedom might be.

But this is backwards. The government has a duty to protect and uphold the freedom of religion, so the burden of proof should be on the government when it passes a law that limits that freedom.

Overturning Smith and restoring religious freedom to its proper place would give people of faith a better path to protecting their God-given freedoms in court. It also could have encouraging implications for three ongoing Alliance Defending Freedom cases.

1. New Hope Family Services v. Poole

New Hope Family Services is a New York pregnancy resource center and adoption provider—connecting birthmothers with couples looking to adopt. Since 1965, it has placed more than 1,000 children in loving adoptive homes. And as a nonprofit ministry, it has done all of that without a single dollar of public funds.

Like Catholic Social Services, New Hope believes placement with a married mother and father is in the best interests of children—and it respectfully refers unmarried and same-sex couples to one of the many other adoption providers in New York.

Still, New York’s Office of Child and Family Services demanded that New Hope make a choice: compromise its religious beliefs about the best interests of children or shut down its adoption ministry.

2. Catholic Charities West Michigan v. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Catholic Charities West Michigan is one of Michigan’s oldest and largest foster-care and adoption providers, overseeing up to 300 children in foster care every day. In fact, in the past decade alone, it has placed close to 4,500 children in adoptive or foster homes.

Like Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia, Catholic Charities West Michigan operates consistently with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

For years, Michigan worked with Catholic Charities while respecting its beliefs—as state law requires. But in 2018, a new state attorney general decided that the state should no longer work with foster care and adoption agencies who desire to place children in homes with a married mother and father according to their religious beliefs. And now, providers like Catholic Charities face the closure of their foster-care and adoption ministries unless they choose to compromise their religious beliefs about marriage.

3. Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington

You’ve likely heard of Washington floral artist Barronelle Stutzman, who was targeted by her state government after politely declining to design custom floral arrangements celebrating a longtime customer’s same-sex wedding.

Barronelle is still waiting for justice in her case, which has been working its way through the courts for over seven years.

Barronelle’s case is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court for the second time. But if the Court rules in favor of Catholic Social Services and Sharonell in Fulton, it is quite possible the Court will also rule for Barronelle, either directly or by sending Barronelle’s case back to the Washington Supreme Court once again to afford greater protections to Barronelle’s religious freedom.

Please join us in praying that the Supreme Court will overturn Smith and restore the right of all Americans to live and work consistently with their faith.

Christian business owners like Barronelle are depending on it. Foster parents like Sharonell are depending on it. And vulnerable children waiting for a loving home are depending on it.

To stay up to date on how the Supreme Court rules in Fulton, sign up for our newsletter.


Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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