Skip to main content
Supreme Court of the United States

What You Need to Know About the Foster Care Case at the Supreme Court

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
November 4, 2020

Sharonell Fulton has dedicated over 25 years of her life to caring for more than 40 foster children. To do this, she chose to work with Catholic Social Services, which shares her faith. 

But her life’s work caring for these children is being threatened by the City of Philadelphia, which stopped Catholic Social Services from serving children in need through its foster care program in 2018.

Sharonell and Catholic Social Services knew this wasn’t right, so they filed a lawsuit against the City.

Today, on November 4, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing this important case. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Who: Sharonell Fulton and Catholic Social Services

As a Christian, Sharonell sees it as an extension of her faith to care for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). That’s why she has partnered with Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia for so many years.

Beyond the fact that Catholic Social Services shares her faith, it also does an excellent job serving vulnerable children. 

In 2017, Catholic Social Services oversaw around 100 foster homes every day. That year, it also placed 226 children in foster homes.

You would think the City would welcome all the help it can get to find loving homes for these vulnerable children. Especially from a ministry with such notable success. 

It’s no secret the City could use the help. In 2018, the City issued an urgent call for 300 more foster families. But just days later, it cut ties with Catholic Social Services.

So what’s going on here? 

What: Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

It likely doesn’t come as a surprise to you that Catholic Social Services operates consistently with the teachings of the Catholic Church—which means it cannot place foster children with same-sex couples because it believes that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Instead, Catholic Social Services would respectfully refer same-sex couples to another provider, although none have ever sought its help. 

Recently, though, the City of Philadelphia decided that providers who share that religious belief have no business serving children.

Rather than allow qualified foster care providers to serve children freely according to their beliefs, the City froze all foster care referrals to Catholic Social Services, preventing the provider’s foster parents from caring for any new foster children. 

It didn’t matter that no one had ever made a single complaint about how Catholic Social Services was operating its ministry. The City was determined to punish Catholic Social Services solely because of its beliefs. 

That’s unconstitutional. And it’s certainly not doing what is best for the vulnerable children in foster care. 

That’s why Catholic Social Services and Sharonell Fulton decided to take a stand against the City’s anti-religious discrimination. 

When: May 2018 – Present 

Our friends and allies at Becket filed a lawsuit on behalf of Catholic Social Services and Sharonell Fulton in May 2018. Unfortunately, the lower courts upheld the City’s new policy of requiring foster care providers to place children with same-sex couples. So, Becket asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case—and the Court agreed to do so in February 2020. 

In June 2020, ADF filed an amicus brief on behalf of two faith-based adoption and foster-care providers that are being forced to make the same impossible choice as Catholic Social Services: conform their beliefs to match the government’s or shut down. ADF is representing these two ministries—New Hope Family Services in New York and Catholic Charities West Michigan—in court to protect their right to operate consistently with their beliefs. The Supreme Court’s decision in Fulton could determine whether these two decades-old ministries—and countless others across the country—are allowed to continue serving kids for years to come. 

And now, on November 4, 2020, Fulton will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.    

Where: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia has more than 5,000 children in foster care on any given day.

Why: We must keep kids first.

Every American has the freedom to live according to their religious beliefs. Adoption and foster care providers are no different.

But today, faith-based child welfare providers are being prevented from serving children and families because some government officials disagree with their beliefs. This religious discrimination doesn’t just violate the First Amendment—it also takes a dangerous toll on some of the most vulnerable among us: children in need of loving homes.

Now more than ever, we need highly successful adoption and foster care providers to keep their doors open—providers like Catholic Social Services.

That is what will truly keep kids first.

The Bottom Line

Every child in need of a loving home deserves the chance to be adopted or cared for by a foster family. Shutting down faith-based adoption and foster care providers means fewer children will have a chance at finding that loving home. And we can’t allow that to happen.

Sign this petition to stand with these providers against government efforts to put a political agenda ahead of the needs of vulnerable children. 



Photo Credit: Becket

Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

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

Resolution 1
Senate Resolution Reminds Us Why Religious Education Should Be Celebrated

Earlier this week, Senator Lindsay Graham introduced Senate Resolution 407, legislation that celebrates religious schools and their contributions to our country by designating the first week of October as “Religious Education Week.”

How Houston Pastors Successfully Stood Up for Their Constitutional Rights

Imagine if you had escaped government oppression in search of freedom and safety for your family in a new country—only to be greeted yet again with the government treading on Constitutional rights.

Lainey 1
West Virginia State Soccer Player Stands Up for Women’s Sports

When it comes to secondary and collegiate athletics, West Virginia’s save women’s sports law makes sure males who identify as female cannot take a spot on any team from a deserving girl.