The Supreme Court with its newest member, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, on Wednesday appeared to lean in favor of Catholic Social Services in its dispute with the city of Philadelphia over the agency’s refusal to include same-sex couples as foster parents. The decision will provide a clear answer regarding Judge Barrett’s views and the general tone of the Trump-influenced conservative court in years to come.
In 2018, the city of Philadelphia terminated its contract with Catholic Social Services because the agency refused to place children with same-sex couples. The city told the agency it violates its anti-discrimination rule.
Catholic Social Services sued on the grounds of its freedom of religion, which is protected by the Constitution. The agency told the court that despite its stated beliefs, it had never actually denied service to same-sex couples.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, another President Trump nominee, pointed out that “if a same-sex couple ever came to Catholic Social Services, Catholic Social Services would refer that couple to another agency that works with same-sex couples so that the couple could participate and be foster parents.”
“It seems when those rights come into conflict, all levels of government should be careful and should often, where possible and appropriate, look for ways to accommodate both interests in reasonable ways,” Kavanaugh said.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, nominated by President Barack Obama, asked the agency: “If one wanted to find a compromise in this case, can you suggest one that wouldn’t do real damage to all the various lines of laws that have been implicated here?”
Seven of the justices are Catholic and one, Justice Elena Kagan, is Jewish. The case before the court began with the Philadelphia Inquirer that told city officials that two foster care agencies with city contracts refuse to work with same-sex couples. In response to pressure from the city, one other agency, Bethany Christian Services, changed its policy. Catholic Social Services also refuses to work with unmarried couples.
Lori Windham, representing Catholic Social Services, told the court the city needlessly punished the agency, harming both prospective foster parents and children, at a time when Philadelphia faces a critical shortage in foster homes. “Religious organizations should be free to serve the public, regardless of their beliefs,” she said.
Windham told the media that “all of the justices were interested in finding a way to allow same-sex couples to foster while also protecting religious liberty.”