The city of Philadelphia does not have to contract with religiously affiliated foster-care placement agencies that engage in discriminatory policies against potential foster parents, Americans United argued in a legal brief filed Oct. 4.
The case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, concerns a decision by Philadelphia officials to stop referring children to Catholic Social Services for foster-care placements after the religious group made it clear that it would not accept same-sex couples as foster parents.
Catholic Social argues that it has a constitutional right to be exempted from provisions of its contract with the city that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation against prospective foster parents. A federal district court ruled in favor of the city, and now the case is on appeal before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Children in foster care need loving homes," said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. "Many caring same-sex couples are eager to help, and it not only makes no sense to stand in their way, but it's also unconstitutional to award taxpayer dollars to services that discriminate on religious grounds."
AU's brief argues that in making foster-care placements on behalf of the city, Catholic Social is behaving as a state actor and thus has no right to discriminate. The brief further explains that the U.S. Constitution prohibits the city from funding or contracting with an entity that discriminates for religious reasons, or based on sexual orientation, in deciding whom it will serve.
"Here, allowing Catholic Social to discriminate in approving prospective foster families would substantially harm people who do not adhere to Catholic Social's religious belief that same-sex couples should not marry," observes the brief. "Most obviously, permitting this discrimination would burden the same-sex couples turned away by Catholic Social, who would not receive the same consideration to be foster parents (and thereby to parent children in need) as other couples would, and would thus receive a message that they are worthy of less respect from a government-sanctioned, government-funded program.
"Such obstacles could cause same-sex...