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Supreme Court rules in favor of Catholic foster agency

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The Supreme Court on Thursday said that Philadelphia violated the First Amendment when it froze the contract of a Catholic foster care agency that refused to work with same-sex couples as potential foster parents because the agency believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
The dispute arose because Catholic Social Services — which was receiving taxpayer funds — was unwilling to work with LGBTQ couples as foster parents out of religious objections to same sex marriage. The policy was brought to the attention of the city in 2018 after inquiries from a local newspaper, and soon after the government put a freeze on the contract. The group, led by long-time foster parent Sharonell Fulton who has fostered more than 40 children over 25 years, brought suit.
The issue before the court was whether Philadelphia could require foster agencies to comply with its non-discrimination law.
READ: Supreme Court opinion in same-sex couple foster care agency case
READ: Supreme Court opinion in same-sex couple foster care agency case
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion for six of the nine justices. Justices Thomas, Alito and Neil Gorsuch joined in the result, but did not join the majority’s rationale — and was disappointed at the result.
“The Court has emitted a wisp of a decision that leaves religious liberty in a confused and vulnerable state,” Alito wrote. “Those who count on this Court to stand up for the First Amendment have every right to be disappointed — as am I.”
Alito would have gone much further overruling decades old precedent and making it much more difficult for the government to enforce laws that burden some individuals’ religious beliefs.
They said they would have overturned a 1990 case that said that if a legal requirement applied equally to everyone, even if it burdened religious practice, it was constitutional as long as the government had a rational basis for the law.
“Today’s decision is another victory for religious groups, but not the major one that they sought,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“The court’s three most conservative justices wanted to overturn three decades of precedent and subject virtually all government regulations that even incidentally impact religious practice to the most exacting judicial scrutiny. But Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kavanaugh and Barrett appeared unwilling, or at least not yet ready, to make such a move — resting the decision on narrower grounds,” he added. “That may also explain why none of the three more progressive justices dissented — lest they encourage the three justices in the middle to go bigger.”

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Robert Dunfee