The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against a Catholic foster care non-profit in Philadelphia that refuses to certify married same-sex couples as prospective foster parents out of religious objections to same-sex marriage.
In a one sentence order, the justices let stand a lower court ruling that had blocked Catholic Social Services from taking on new applicants to its foster program.
The ruling is a loss for Catholic Social Services, which had asked for an emergency injunction while the dispute plays out in the lower courts. Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas noted they would have granted the request. It would have taken five votes to grant the request, but it’s unclear what the final vote count was because justices don’t have to publicly reveal their vote in such situations.
The group receives city funds when it places a child in foster care, but it will not comply with Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination ordinance that the city says requires all groups that certify prospective parents to do so regardless of the applicants’ religion, race, marital status or sexual orientation.
A lower court blocked the charity from taking any new candidates to serve as foster parents while the case plays out in the lower courts. The ruling meant that there would not be any new placements of foster children within the non-profit’s in home foster care program.
The case is the latest clash between religious freedom and same-sex marriage to reach the high court. Last term, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple out of religious objections to same-sex marriage.
In court papers, lawyers for the Catholic Social Services argued that the city “cannot demand that religious groups parrot its views as a pre-condition to serving foster children” and “it cannot retaliate against” the group by “shutting down Catholic’s foster care programs” without violating its religious freedom.
The city of Philadelphia argued that Catholic Social Services is one of 30 nonprofit agencies that provide services for foster parents and children in the city’s public child welfare system through contracts with the city’s Department of Human Services. They say that no one is “compelling” the group to apply for the city-funded contracts and that the group can simply choose not to participate.
“The contract obligates CSS to adhere to the City’s long-standing non-discrimination policies and laws in performing the services required,” city lawyers write.
“The freedom of religion entitles faith-based organizations to participate in government programs on the same terms as other contractors; it does not entitle faith-based government contractors to alter the government services provided to confirm to their religious beliefs, or to opt out on religious grounds of some of the contract provisions,” they wrote.