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Civil Rights

Trump Administration Backs Catholic Charity Which Refuses to Work With Same-Sex Couples

— June 7, 2020

The Trump administration has lent its support to Catholic Social Services’ lawsuit against Philadelphia.

The Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court to consider whether taxpayer-funded organizations can legally refuse to work with same-sex couples.

According to NBC News, the Department of Justice submitted a brief in the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The Wednesday filing seeks to intervene on behalf of Catholic Social Services, a religious non-profit that operates a child welfare agency in Pennsylvania.

While Catholic Social Services receives taxpayer funding, the organization has insisted that it should not be compelled to work with people whose beliefs or lifestyles run counter to certain Christian narratives. In response, Philadelphia canceled its contract with Catholic Social Services.

In its brief, the Justice Department argued that “Philadelphia has impermissibly discriminated against religious exercise,” and that the city’s actions “reflect unconstitutional hostility toward Catholic Social Services’ religious beliefs.”

NBC News notes that the latter argument cites another recent Supreme Court case. There, too, the government intervened on behalf of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a gay couple.

Scales of Justice. Image via Flickr/user:mikecogh. (CCA-BY-2.0).

While Phillips claimed his religious beliefs entitled to discriminate against clients, the Supreme Court’s decision in his favor was based more on a technicality than any First Amendment violation: in its ruling, the justices found that the Colorado Human Rights Commission had taken swift, hostile action against Phillips because of his views.

But the court did not offer an opinion on the specific merits of Phillips’ argument.

Catholic Social Services, adds NBC, sued Philadelphia in 2018, after the city cut its contract with the organization. Like Phillips, Catholic Social Services has since argued that it cannot constitutionally be forced to provide services to gay couples.

Lordi Windham, senior counsel at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Catholic Social Services, said the court’s feedback is welcome.

“I’m relieved to hear that the Supreme Court will weigh in on faith-based adoption and foster care,” Windham said. “Over the last few years, agencies have been closing their doors across the country, and all the while children are pouring into the system.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union has pushed back, suggesting statements like Windham’s are somewhat nonsensical, as restricting gay couples from adoption means fewer children can be placed in loving homes.

“While this case involves rejecting LGBTQ families, if the Court accepts the claims made in this case, not only will this hurt children in foster care by reducing the number of families in care for them, but anyone who depends on a wide range of government services will be at risk of discrimination based on their sexual orientation, religion or any other characteristic that fails a provider’s religious litmus test,” said ACLU LGBT and HIV Project deputy director Leslie Cooper.

The New York Times notes that the Trump administration has previously proposed federal guidance which would let foster care and adoption agencies deny services to LGBT families, so long as their denial is grounded in faith.


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