June 25, 2021


Court’s decision shines a light on importance of religious freedom

As we mark Religious Freedom Week in the Church in the U.S., we believe it is providential that the Supreme Court in a June 17 decision ruled that a Catholic social service agency should not have been excluded from the city of Philadelphia’s foster care program because it did not accept same-sex couples as foster parents. 

And what makes the court’s ruling even more affirming is the justices voted 9-0 in favor of the Catholic ministry. 

The Fulton v. City of Philadelphia case centered on Philadelphia’s 2018 exclusion of the foster program of Catholic Social Services (CSS) of the Philadelphia Archdiocese because of the agency’s policy of not placing children with same-sex couples or unmarried couples because these unions go against Church teaching on marriage. Plaintiffs Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch are foster moms who partner with Philadelphia’s CSS agency.

“I am overjoyed that the Supreme Court recognized the important work of Catholic Social Services and has allowed me to continue fostering children most in need of a loving home,” said Fulton. “My faith is what drives me to care for foster children here in Philadelphia, and I thank God the Supreme Court believes that’s a good thing, worthy of protection.”

“The Justices understand that foster parents like me share in the common, noble task of providing children with loving homes,” added Simms-Busch. “Our foster-care ministry in Philadelphia is vital to solving the foster care crisis and Catholic Social Services is a cornerstone of that ministry.”

Authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of CSS stated that “the City’s actions have burdened CSS’s religious exercise by putting it to the choice of curtailing its mission or approving relationships inconsistent with its beliefs.” 

The opinion also stated “the refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless it agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny, and violates the First Amendment.” 

The court’s opinion noted “CSS has ‘long been a point of light in the City’s foster-care system.’ CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs.”

Chairmen of three USCCB committees responded on June 18 to the decision by the court, noting “Americans have long been a tolerant people who respect each other’s deepest differences. Yesterday, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld that tradition, reinvigorating the First Amendment’s promise that religious believers can bring the full vitality of their faith to their charitable service and to the public square.

“This is a victory for the common good and for thousands of children who rely on religious foster care and adoption agencies to find a loving home with a mother and father, which is their right,” continued Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Okla., chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Okla., chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. 

“We are grateful the ruling recognizes our right to witness in our works of mercy and God’s plan for the family,” they continued. “We Catholics must continue to practice what we preach. Let us show all our neighbors the truth of our beliefs by their beauty when they are put into action.” 

When the USCCB invited Catholics “to pray, reflect and act to promote religious freedom” during Religious Freedom Week, which is from June 22-29 and has as its theme “Solidarity in Freedom,” they designated themes for each day to focus on different religious liberty topics of concern for the Church in the U.S. Providentially, the theme for June 22 was “adoption and foster care.” Participants were asked to “pray that children waiting to be placed in a loving home and the caregivers who serve those children will find strength and support from the Church.” 

The Supreme Court’s recent decision is an answer to prayer for faith-based adoption agencies throughout the U.S. and the children they serve. 

We also applaud the justices for calling CSS in Philadelphia “a point of light in the City’s foster-care system.”

We believe there are many foster-care agencies—Catholic and other—who bring light to situations enveloped in darkness. 

And we pray their ministries continue to offer that lifeline of hope and love for generations to come. 

—Mike Krokos

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