9-0: Supreme Court Takes Bold Stand For Religious Freedom

In a unanimous decision, The Supreme Court of the United States ruled against a lower court regarding the City of Philadelphia outlawing Catholic Social Services from accepting foster children due to their unwillingness to endorse same-sex adoption practices.

SCOTUS ruled that Philadelphia violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment when city officials refused to contract with Catholic Social Services due to their stance on same-sex marriage and adoption. The ruling comes after the Democrat-led city recently stopped foster children from being placed with CSS on the bases of its religious beliefs and practices on traditional marriage and child rearing.

“Philadelphia took this extraordinary action not in response to any legal violation, nor in response to any complaint it received, but because of CSS’s religious beliefs and practices regarding marriage.”

The lower court ruling stated:

“Philadelphia will renew its foster care contract with CSS only if the agency agrees to certify same-sex couples.”

Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his dissent the lower court ruling “burdened Catholic Social Service’s religious exercise bu putting it to the choice of curtailing its mission or approving relationship inconsistent with their religious believes.”

Philadelphia defended its decision by pointed to an earlier SCOTUS case from 1990, Employment Division v. Smith, which they argued the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment only applies when the government discriminates against religion itself. In its defense, the city points out that its anti-discrimination law (the Fair Practices Ordinances) holds that same-sex couples are legally treated the same as those in traditional marriages, so any unwillingness, religious or not, to prevent same-sex adoptions violated the Philadelphia law.

The Court ultimately rejected the city’s argument that CSS’s practice violated a section of “its standard foster care contract, determining that the provision is not generally applicable as required by Smith.”

Roberts, in his opinion, determined that the city offered “no compelling reason why it has a particular interest in denying an exception to the Catholic Social Services while making them available to adoption agencies.”

“The refusal of the City to contract with CSS for the use of foster care services unless it agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive such strict scrutiny, and violates the First Amendment,” he added.

Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, agreed in the Court’s judgment, and wrote their own dissents in addition to Chief Justice Robert’s.

“There can be no doubt that the City’s ultimatum restricts Catholic Social Services’ ability to do what it believes the Catholic faith requires,” Justice Alito wrote.

Furthering their arguments, the Justices determined that this case serves as the most pertinent example of Smith acting an anti-Constitutional deterrent agains religious liberty. Gorsuch even writing in his defense, “the Court should overturn the Smith ruling without further delay.”

Author: Elizabeth Tierney