Catholic Social Services (CSS) has operated a foster care agency in Philadelphia since 1917. In 2018, a news reporter brought to the attention of the City’s Department of Human Services that CSS operated by faith-based principles regarding the nature of marriage, meaning that CSS only worked with single individuals and man/woman married couples. Because of its faith tenets, CSS does not consider gay couples to be “married.” At no time in its history had CSS ever been approached by a gay couple seeking assistance in taking in a foster child.

The reporter’s inquiry started a chain of events which included the City’s demand that CSS either change its policies concerning same-sex married couples or lose future contracts with the City to place foster children. CSS refused, the City ended its relationship with CSS, and CSS filed suit in the federal courts, claiming First Amendment violations of religion and speech, as well as violations of Pennsylvania’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

The federal trial court denied CSS’s request, and an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit followed. It is this latter court which this week also denied any relief to CSS. In its opinion, the court argued that the Philadelphia non-discrimination law that protects, among other things, “sexual orientation,” does not target religion for unequal treatment, so it does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, nor the state RFRA:

“At this stage and on this record, we conclude that CSS is not entitled to a preliminary injunction. The City’s non-discrimination policy is a neutral, generally applicable law, and the religious views of CSS do not entitle it to an exception from that policy… It has failed to make a persuasive showing that the City targeted it for its religious beliefs, or is motivated by ill will against its religion, rather than sincere opposition to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

CSS is represented by Becket Law, a public interest law firm specializing in religious freedom issues. Lori Windham is the Senior Counsel there. In a statement, she said:

“This ruling is devastating to the hundreds of foster children who have been waiting for a family and to the dozens of parents working with Catholic Social Services who have been waiting to foster a child. We’re disappointed that the court decided to let the city place politics above the needs of kids and the rights of parents, but we will continue this fight.”

As is the case in other places where faith-based foster care and adoption agencies have been put out of business by state and local governments pushing the LGBT agenda, denying the rights of religious conscience in the name of combatting non-existent “discrimination” against same-sex couples only serves to hurt needy children. There are always plenty of secular agencies willing to work with same-sex couples.

Philadelphia has approximately 6000 foster children and 30 private foster care agencies it works with.  At the same time that it was squeezing CSS out of the system, the City put out an urgent request for new foster families. Forcing CSS to leave the foster care field at a time of such critical need is foolishness on a major scale, and the petty vindictiveness of it all highlights the depths to which left-leaning governments will sink in this era of court-imposed same-sex marriage.

An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court could be a “next step” for CSS. 

Photo from Becket Law.