DOJ backs faith-based foster care agency

Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Michael F. Haverluck (

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The founder of a legal group for advancing religious freedom is applauding the U.S. Department of Justice for boldly standing behind a Catholic foster care agency that's under fire for standing firm on its biblical beliefs.

The DOJ has filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Catholic Social Services (CSS), which is suing the City of Philadelphia for canceling its contracts because of the agency's beliefs against placing children with same-sex couples.

When a barrage of children entered Philadelphia's foster care system in March 2018, CSS answered the urgent call to be among those helping to place them in 300 nurturing foster care families. But Philadelphia cancelled all of its contracts with the agency due to its scriptural beliefs about marriage. Liberty Counsel, though, explains that wasn't all that happened.

"The city then prohibited Catholic Social Services from placing any more children with the families it had already certified in order to investigate whether the agency had violated the city's Fair Practices Ordinance – a policy that prohibits 'discrimination' on the basis of 'sexual orientation' or 'gender identity,'" the legal group recounts.

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Families eager to receive children through the faith-based agency ended up filing their lawsuit, Sharonell Fulton, et al. v. City of Philadelphia, when the city wouldn't budge – and after no success in the lower courts, SCOTUS announced it would review their oral argument this fall.

"Foster parents licensed through the Catholic Social Services sought an order to require the city to renew its contract, arguing that the city's decision violated its religious freedom under the Constitution," Liberty Counsel explains. "The Third Circuit Court of Appeals previously denied Catholic Social Services' request for a preliminary injunction in its lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia."

Quoting SCOTUS' Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission decision in 2018 – in favor of a Christian baker who declined to make a cake for a homosexual couple's wedding because of his biblical beliefs on marriage – the DOJ formed the argument for its brief that it filed with the nation's highest court:

"The context of the City's actions reveals impermissible hostility toward religion. The City's actions are also unconstitutional because the record shows the City failed to 'proceed in a manner neutral toward and tolerant of [Catholic Social Services'] religious beliefs,' as it was 'obliged [to do] under the Free Exercise Clause.' The evidence demonstrates the City's impermissible hostility in numerous ways, and so the decision resulting from that hostility – exclusion of Catholic Social Services from the foster-care program – 'cannot stand.'" (Excerpted from the DOJ's amicus brief)

Discrimination against an agency because of its sincerely held religious beliefs was argued against the City of Philadelphia, along with its alleged violation of the agency's religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution

"Further, the City authorizes some exemptions to its policy it doesn't offer to religious organizations," the brief continues. "The City's action burdened Catholic Social Services' exercise of religion in a manner that the Free Exercise Clause prohibits."

Even though CSS was ready to help meet the city's dire need for foster families, local officials remained unwilling to deal with an agency that would not compromise its family values based on the Bible – or submit to their progressive views on human sexuality and child rearing.

"There are currently 6,000 foster children in the City of Philadelphia and dozens of families licensed to foster through Catholic Social Services who are willing to take in children; however – as a result of the city's actions – their beds have remained empty for two years," the release points out.


Sharonell Fulton, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, has fostered more than 40 children over 26 years. The late Cecilia Paul fostered more than 100 children. Both are among the several CSS-licensed foster parents suing city officials. Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver is more than pleased the DOJ is boldly standing behind them.

"We commend the Department of Justice for protecting vulnerable children in need, as well as religious liberty for faith-based organizations," Staver proclaims in a press release. "There are children languishing in foster care institutions because [of] the City of Philadelphia's refusal to protect religious freedom."

He argues that it is unconstitutional to require individuals and groups to disavow their biblical beliefs in order to be eligible to give children the love and nurture they desperately need.

"Faith-based adoption and private foster placement organizations should not have to choose between their deeply held religious beliefs and their mission to help children and families," Staver concludes.


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