PHILADELPHIA - A federal appeals court ruled today that the city of Philadelphia is entitled to require its taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies to abide by its nondiscrimination requirements. Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia had sought the ability to use religious criteria to turn away same-sex couples as prospective foster families.
The American Civil Liberties Union represents the Support Center for Child Advocates, a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation and services to children in the foster care system, and Philadelphia Family Pride, a membership organization of LGBTQ parents and prospective parents and their families, which intervened in the case.
Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, had the following reaction:
“This is a victory for the thousands of children in Philadelphia’s child welfare system. Many of those children live in group homes, are separated from siblings, or age out of foster care without ever becoming part of a family because of the shortage of foster and adoptive families to care for them. Prospective foster and adoptive parents should be judged by their capacity to provide love and support to a child, not the religious views of a tax-funded agency.
“Religious liberty is one of our most fundamental freedoms, and it protects all of us from government interference with whether, when, and how we practice our faith. It does not entitle taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies to impose their own religious eligibility criteria on important government programs. The city of Philadelphia recognizes the need to maximize the number of families available for children in foster care and has every right to insist that the agencies it hires to find families for these children accept all qualified families. Nothing in the Constitution puts the religious beliefs of these agencies ahead of the needs of the children in their care.”
In filing the lawsuit last year, Catholic Social Services claimed a constitutional right to use religious criteria to turn away same-sex couples as prospective foster families while providing services for children in Philadelphia’s public foster care system. It had asked the lower court for a preliminary injunction ordering the city to renew its contract despite its unwillingness to comply with the city’s nondiscrimination requirement. The court denied that request in July, and today the Third Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the district court.