October 2018 Church & State - October 2018

Court Declines To Intervene In Pa. Foster Care Case

  Rob Boston

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to stay out of a dispute over religious foster care in Pennsylvania – for now.

Earlier this year, officials in Philadelphia stopped referring children to a foster-care program run by Catholic Social Services (CSS) because the agency refuses to place children with same-sex couples. City law, officials noted, outlaws discrimination against LGBTQ residents.

CSS sued, arguing that the city’s policy violated its religious freedom.

A federal court refused to issue a temporary order putting the city’s policy on hold, and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later agreed. CSS then asked the Supreme Court to intervene, but the court, in an Aug. 30 order, declined.

Three justices – Clarence M. Thomas, Samuel A. Alito and Neil Gorsuch – indicated they would have granted CSS’ request, but it takes five votes to issue such an order.

Amy Howe, a reporter for SCOTUSblog, a blog that focuses on the Supreme Court, noted that CSS accused the city of “vindictive conduct” that “will lead to displaced children, empty homes, and the closure of a 100-year-old ministry.” But city officials countered that they are allowed to put conditions on how government money is spent. They also asserted that CSS had been told it must comply with the city’s non-discrimination laws.

The case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, was sent back to the 3rd Circuit for argument, which will take place this month or in November.

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