Foster Care: Supreme Court backs Catholic Social Services


City cannot force agency to place children with same sex couples.

The policy of Catholic Social Services, under guidance from its ruling Catholic Archdiocese, does not allow same sex couples to apply and be approved for care of foster children.  In 2018, the City of Philadelphia responded by refusing to place children through CSS and related agencies.  CSS sued the City, arguing that Philadelphia had violated its rights of free exercise under the US Constitution.  The case proceeded through the lower US District and Appeals courts – which had sided with the City.  The Supreme Court ruled this week in favor of CSS.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.” 

Justice Roberts wrote further that, “The justices decided that foster care certification provided by Catholic Social Services did not fall under the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance because it is a service not “readily available” to the public.”

In her remarks about the court decision, US Representative Mary Gay Scanlon hoped that the decision would not somehow obscure the tremendous need to expand foster and kinship care and adoption in Philadelphia and around the country.  “In a system that is already overwhelmed, we should strive to find as many safe, welcoming, and caring homes as possible for youth who are in need. Even one child losing out on a loving home because of the sexuality of gender identity of potential foster parents is one too many. And I am also concerned about the impact on LGBTQ youth in need of foster care, since they are already at enhanced risk for homelessness, discrimination, and abuse,” Rep. Scanlon said in part.

The ruling in favor of Catholic Social Services did not surprise some commentators who observed that while Catholics only represent 22 percent of the US population, six of the nine Supreme Court justices, including Roberts are practicing Roman Catholics or were raised Catholic.

Religious rights groups countered by observing the religious freedom decision was unanimous and suggested that it will have a strong influence on future court cases involving religious rights.  Currently foster care agencies in 11 other states are allowed to bar same sex couples from being foster parents.  It was noted that LGBT individuals may raise foster children – but not same sex couples.

(Information for this article was excerpted from a Reuters news article by Lawrence Hurley and Will Dunham June 18, today’s release from Rep. Scanlon, and the text of the Supreme Court decision at

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