A unanimous Supreme Court decision in a Pennsylvania foster-care dispute shows the legal fight pitting religious protections against LGBTQ rights is far from over.
In Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, all nine justices on the conservative-majority high court sided with Catholic Social Services, a longtime foster-care agency that refused to serve same-sex foster parents. The case is one of the latest battles in the ongoing culture war being fought in courts, legislatures, workplaces and the public square.
The latest edition of ReligionLink features experts on LGBTQ rights, religious protections and the fights that generate controversies putting these issues at odds with each other.
Fulton v. City of Philadelphia
- Details: The case began in 2018. It was spurred after The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Catholic Social Services and Bethany Christian Services declined to work with same-sex foster parents. This meant the foster-care agencies were going against a Philadelphia ordinance dictating nondiscrimination requirements for city contractors, putting the renewal of their future contracts in jeopardy, the Philadelphia newspaper reported. Bethany Christian Services switched its rules, but Catholic Social Services did not and sued the city on religious grounds. The lawsuit made its way to the Supreme Court. Although the ruling was unanimous, the justices were divided in their reasoning, USA TODAY reported. Concurring opinions highlight the division on the court over their different views and willingness to overturn a related 1990 decision, Employment Division v. Smith.
- Oral argument: Nov. 4, 2020
- 9-0 decision: June 17, 2021
- Read the opinion of the court and other filings.
- News coverage
- Read “Supreme Court foster care ruling likely to prompt more tests of religion vs. LGBTQ rights” from USA TODAY on June 18, 2021.
- Read “Supreme Court rules in favor of Catholic foster care agency, in narrow win for religious rights” from Religion News Service on June 17, 2021.
- Read “The Supreme Court has decided on a case involving Philadelphia and religious rights. Here’s what you need to know.” from The Philadelphia Inquirer on June 17, 2021.
- Read “Supreme Court rules for Catholic foster care agency in major religious freedom case” from Deseret News on June 17, 2021.
- Listen to “Religious Rights Win Out in Clash With Gay Rights” from Bloomberg Law.
- Read “Two foster agencies in Philly won’t place kids with LGBTQ people” from The Philadelphia Inquirer on March 13, 2018.
Other related news coverage
- Read “The push for LGBTQ civil rights stalls in the Senate as advocates search for Republican support” from The Washington Post on June 20, 2021.
- Read “Baker fined for refusing to make transgender transition cake” from Religion News Service on June 17, 2021.
- Read “Kentucky’s feud with agency over LGBTQ foster parents may be decided by US Supreme Court” from the Courier Journal on June 15, 2021.
- Read “How a Supreme Court decision last year is reshaping the legal battle over LGBTQ discrimination” from USA TODAY on June 1, 2021.
- Read “Transracial adoptive families say talking about race is not a ‘woke test’” from Religion News Service on May 15, 2021.
- Read “Major Evangelical Adoption Agency Will Now Serve Gay Parents Nationwide” from The New York Times on March 1, 2021.
- Read “Bethany Christian Services to allow LGBTQ couples to adopt, foster children” from Religion News Service on March 1, 2021.
- Read “What’s in store for the Equality Act, and why do some religions want a revision?” from Religion News Service on Feb. 26, 2021.
- Read “From bathrooms to ball fields, transgender rights advance in wake of Supreme Court ruling” from USA TODAY on Sept. 3, 2020.
- Read “In first bill of the year, Tennessee Senate passes legislation allowing adoption agencies to deny gay couples” from The Tennessean on Jan. 14, 2020.
- Read “States grapple with religious exemptions in foster care” from CNN on April 16, 2019.
- Read “Lesbian couple was denied chance to be foster parents by taxpayer-funded charity. So they sued.” from The Washington Post on Feb. 20, 2018.
- Read “The Roberts Court and the Transformation of Constitutional Protections for Religion: A Statistical Portrait” from SSRN on April 3, 2021.
- Read “How Catholics around the world see same-sex marriage, homosexuality” from Pew Research Center on Nov. 2, 2020.
- Read “Attitudes on Same-Sex Marriage” from Pew Research Center on May 14, 2019.
- Read “How Many Same-Sex Couples in the US are Raising Children?” from UCLA School of Law Williams Institute in July 2018.
Samuel D. Brunson is a law professor at Loyola University Chicago. Brunson is an expert on religion and the tax system.
Kim Colby is senior counsel at the Christian Legal Society in Springfield, Virginia, and has worked at the society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom since 1981.
Leslie Cooper serves as deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project. Over the last two decades, she’s worked on many cases related to the rights of LGBT adoptive parents.
Marianne Duddy-Burke is the executive director of Dignity USA, a Catholic organization committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church and society.
Richard Garnett is a professor of law and political science at the University of Notre Dame. He is an expert on the Supreme Court, church-state issues, religious liberty and Catholic social thought.
Marie-Amélie George is a legal historian and a law professor at Wake Forest University. George specializes in LGBTQ rights and teaches family law.
Shoshana K. Goldberg is a professor in the department of maternal and child health at The University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. Goldberg is an expert in LGBTQ health.
Marci A. Hamilton is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the founder, CEO and academic director for Child USA, a nonprofit think tank aimed at ending child abuse. Hamilton, who began her career as a lawyer, is an expert on child sex abuse statutes, as well as law and religion. She is author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty.
Aziz Huq teaches law at the University of Chicago and is the author of “The Collapse of Constitutional Remedies.” Huq also clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Anthony Michael Kreis is a law professor at Georgia State University. His areas of expertise include employment discrimination, anti-discrimination and the law’s treatment of LGBTQ people.
Douglas Laycock is a professor of law and religious studies at the University of Virginia and an authority on religious liberty. He is the author of several books and articles on law and religion and co-edited a collection of essays on same-sex marriage and religious freedom.
Douglas NeJaime is law professor at Yale Law School. NeJaime is an expert on family law, legal ethics and law and sexuality.
Archbishop Nelson Perez leads the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Jennifer Pizer is law and policy director at Lambda Legal, a national legal organization advocating for LGBTQ rights. Contact Tom Warnke for media requests.
Frank Ravitch is chair of law and religion at Michigan State University and a scholar of constitutional religious freedom protections. He is author of several books on the Constitution’s religion clauses, including Freedom’s Edge: Religious Freedom, Sexual Freedom, and the Future of America and Masters of Illusion: The Supreme Court and the Religion Clauses.
Ronald E. Richter is CEO and executive director of JCCA, a foster-care program in New York. Richter also is an adoptive parent. Anna Gold is the media contact.
Micah Schwartzman is a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. His areas of expertise include law and religion.
Elizabeth Sepper is a law professor at the University of Texas, Austin. She is an expert
on religious liberty. Previously, Sepper was a Center for Reproductive Rights Fellow at Columbia University law school and co-authored a Feb. 9, 2012, U.S. News & World Report post about the Obama administration’s contraception coverage mandate.
Stacey Stevenson is the CEO of Family Equality, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ families.
Anna Libertin is the media contact.
Christina Wilson Remlin is lead counsel for the child welfare organization Children’s Rights. Camilla Jenkins is the media contact.
Robin Fretwell Wilson is the co-director of the Family Law and Policy Program at the University of Illinois, where she also teaches. She is also the director the Institute of Government and Public Affairs for the University of Illinois System. Her books include Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Prospects for Common Ground and The Contested Place of Religion in Family Law.
Adam Winkler is a professor at UCLA Law School. He is an expert on the Supreme Court.