Discrimination in Social Services

Supreme Court Should Affirm That Taxpayer-Funded Child-Placement Agencies Can’t Use Religion To Discriminate

  Rob Boston

The presidential election remains undecided. While we wait for every vote to be counted, be assured that, no matter what happens, Americans United will remain steadfast in its support of religious freedom and separation of church and state. Protecting those twin principles is what we do, and we’re going to keep at it no matter who’s sitting in the White House.

Our work continues, even amid the drama of the election. Today, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in an important religious freedom case called Fulton v. The City of Philadelphia.

This case centers on an important question: Does a taxpayer-funded child-placement agency contracted to run the government’s foster care program have a constitutional right to misuse religious freedom to reject qualified parents who are LGBTQ people or who don’t follow the agency’s religious tenets?

Officials in Philadelphia believe that taxpayer-funded child-placement agencies working on behalf of the government must follow the city’s antidiscrimination provisions in its contracts. But Catholic Social Services insists it should have the right to receive tax support even as it imposes a religious litmus test on potential parents. (Read more about the case here.)

Americans United agrees with city officials that nondiscrimination is an important principle in government-sponsored programs. That’s why in August we filed an amicus brief on behalf of four prospective foster families who shared their devastating experiences of contacting child-placement agencies in hopes of helping vulnerable children – only to be turned away because they couldn’t pass the religious litmus tests of the agencies hired by the government to find homes for those children. 

Among them is Aimee Maddonna, a South Carolina mother of three whose family has a long history of helping children in need. Aimee wanted to mentor children and eventually become a foster parent through a child-placement agency called Miracle Hill. At first, it looked like the agency would welcome Aimee and her family, but when Miracle Hill officials found out that Aimee is Catholic and not an evangelical Protestant as the agency requires, they turned her away. (You can learn more about Aimee’s case here.)

As AU President and CEO Rachel Laser noted in a press statement, “Our government has a duty to protect vulnerable children in the foster care system and ensure they are placed in safe homes with loving families. Taxpayer-funded child-placement agencies should never be allowed to use religious litmus tests to turn away qualified parents who are the ‘wrong’ religion or are LGBTQ.”

Americans United believes that religious freedom is precious and must be a shield to protect an individual’s rights, not a sword that lashes out at and harms others.

We’re fighting for a meaningful religious freedom in the courts, in Congress and in state legislatures. That’s what our work is all about, and we will keep doing it, throughout this unsettled political period and beyond.

P.S. Join us tonight at 8 Eastern for an online townhall discussion about the Fulton case featuring Dena Sher, AU’s vice president for public policy, and other panelists. Information about the event is here.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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