Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

Last modified 2021.06.18


  • Status Closed
  • Type Amicus
  • Court U.S. Court of Appeals, U.S. Supreme Court
  • Issues Discrimination in Name of Religion, Foster Care Discrimination, LGBTQ Rights

Case Documents

The City of Philadelphia contracts with private child-placement agencies to review and certify potential foster parents and to place children in homes. The child-placement agencies receive taxpayer money to perform these functions. When the City learned that one of its contractors, Catholic Social Services, had refused to certify same-sex couples as foster parents because of Catholic Social’s religious beliefs—in violation of the agencies’ contracts with the City—the City stopped referring children to Catholic Social.

Catholic Social and a handful of associated foster parents sued the City, arguing that Catholic Social had a right under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause to discriminate in the provision of foster-care services because of its religious beliefs. The federal district court denied Catholic Social’s motion for a preliminary injunction, and Catholic Social appealed that decision to the Third Circuit. We filed an amicus brief in the Third Circuit in support of Philadelphia, and the Third Circuit ruled in favor of the City. The Supreme Court then agreed to hear the case.

We filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court on behalf of prospective foster parents who have faced religiously motivated discrimination from taxpayer-funded foster care agencies: Aimee Maddonna (because she’s Catholic); Lydia Currie (because she’s Jewish); Eden Rogers and Brandy Welch (because they’re Unitarians and a married same-sex couple); and Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin (because they’re a married same-sex couple). We argued that permitting government-funded child-placement agencies to discriminate against prospective parents based on religious criteria would violate the Establishment Clause.

In June 2021, the Court ruled in favor of Catholic Social on narrow grounds. Specifically, it held that the nondiscrimination requirement in the City’s contracts for child-placement agencies triggered strict-scrutiny review that the City could not survive because the contract allowed the Commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services to grant individualized, discretionary exemptions from the nondiscrimination policy. But the Court refused to go further and overrule the general principle that government need not exempt religious objectors from neutral and generally applicable laws.

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