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HomeIllinois NewsUnanimous United State Supreme Court Decision Favors Traditional Family and Religious Liberty

Unanimous United State Supreme Court Decision Favors Traditional Family and Religious Liberty

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WASHINGTON DC – The United States Supreme Court has unanimously supported religious liberty in a 9-0 decision handed down in the case Sharonell Fulton, et al. v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, et. al. The Thomas More Society filed an amici curiae(friends of the court) brief with the high court on behalf of Catholic Charities from two Illinois dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church, supporting Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, along with foster parents Sharonell Fulton and Toni Lynn Simms-Busch.

The Philadelphia Catholic agency that places children in foster care sued the City of Philadelphia after it informed private agencies that it would no longer refer children to them unless they agreed to requirements that would force the charity to place children in homes with same-sex couples, something that is in deep conflict with Catholic religious teachings.

The nine Supreme Court Justices agreed with the Catholic social services group, stating that the rule violated their First Amendment right to free religious exercise and that the City of Philadelphia was unable to articulate any compelling reason justifying its refusal to accommodate the Catholic foster placement agency’s religious beliefs. The court said it did not need to consider overruling its earlier decision in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872 (1990) because Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance was not “generally applicable” in light of the numerous exemptions it offered. In view of the exemptions, the court strictly scrutinized the city’s ordinance, requiring it to identify “interests of the highest order” as to why it could not accommodate the foster care agency’s religious views. The court found that the reasons the city gave fell far short.

The Thomas More Society filing, made with the United States Supreme Court in June 2020, criticized Philadelphia’s First Amendment violation in requiring a religious agency to make statements and perform actions that contradicted its religious beliefs in order to participate in the foster care system. Having experienced in Illinois what happened in Philadelphia, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Joliet, Inc. asked the high court to side with their Pennsylvania counterparts and the foster parents suing for their religious rights.

Thomas More Society Vice President and Senior Counsel Thomas Olp applauded the decision, noting that the unanimous verdict underscored the reverence that the justices have for the liberties established by this nation’s founders.

“This has been a season of intense challenge to one of America’s most precious and dearly held rights, that of religious liberty,” shared Olp. “This Supreme Court has regularly upheld the importance of this foundational freedom. This decision bodes well for the future of America’s foster children.”

Olp explained how, in a foster care shortage, Philadelphia’s foster children have been denied the foster homes previously provided through Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in the same way they were denied the benefit of decades of superior foster care in Illinois.

“As in Philadelphia, Illinois’ multiple Catholic Charities were booted from the foster care system because of their sincerely held religious beliefs,” detailed Olp. “These beliefs not only account for the existence of these organizations but govern their practices. Because Catholic Charities organizations, as affiliates of the Roman Catholic Church, ascribe to the Biblical view of marriage, between one man and one woman, their deepest religious beliefs would not allow them to place at-risk children into homosexual civil unions or same-sex marriages. For this reason and this reason alone, the State of Illinois, like the City of Philadelphia, refused to allow their continued participation in the placing of thousands of children into much needed foster homes. We are pleased that the high court justices saw this for the religious discrimination it is, and unanimously affirmed that as being prohibited by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

“The key takeaway for the situation regarding Illinois’ Catholic Charities is that this conduct cannot withstand strict scrutiny,” added Olp “If this decision had been on the books 10 years ago, the foster children of Illinois would still be able to rely on Catholic Charities today. The state’s Department of Children and Family Services has been a mess since they kicked out these top-ranked religiously-affiliated foster care agencies.”

Read more about the Thomas More Society’s involvement with the defense of religious liberty for Catholic foster child placement agencies here [https://thomasmoresociety.org/illinois-catholic-charities-ask-high-court-to-support-faith-based-foster-parenting/].

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