Illinois Catholic Charities Ask High Court to Support Faith-Based Foster Parenting


THOMAS MORE SOCIETY — A Philadelphia law that purports to prevent discrimination actually harms children through religious discrimination, according to an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief filed with the United States Supreme Court by the Thomas More Society. Representing Catholic Charities from two Illinois dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church, the brief, filed June 3, 2020, in Sharonell Fulton, et al. v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, et al., supports Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, along with foster parents Sharonell Fulton and Toni Lynn Simms-Busch.

The Thomas More Society filing speaks to Philadelphia’s alleged First Amendment violation in requiring a religious agency to make statements and perform actions that contradict 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. are asking 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 explained the scenario: “The United States faces a continuing, serious shortage of foster care parents and an ever-growing need for them. Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has provided decades of excellent foster care services. Yet, because Catholic Social Services believes, as a tenet of the Roman Catholic faith, that a child should have as parents, a male and a female, the City of Philadelphia disqualified Catholic Social Services from continuing as a foster care agency. Philadelphia’s action harms vulnerable children by shrinking the number of available foster parents. It harms religious freedom. And it confers no discernible benefit on same-sex couples who can easily qualify as foster parents at dozens of other agencies in Philadelphia.”

“The amici brief describes how the same thing happened in 2011 to several Illinois Catholic Charities, which operate as ministries of 5 of the 6 Roman Catholic dioceses there. The State of Illinois abruptly canceled Catholic Charities’ participation in its foster care system when they declined to follow the State’s policy mandating qualification of same-sex couples as foster parents. The State ignored Catholic Charities’ over 40 years of superior foster care in Illinois, rated as among the top providers by the State itself, in recruiting, training, and qualifying foster parents and devising and implementing child welfare plans for children in need of foster care. All that ended in 2011, when Illinois instituted the Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act, legalizing same-sex relationships. Despite the nod to ‘Religious Freedom,’ the State immediately demanded all foster care agencies to qualify same-sex couples, and made no accommodation whatever for religious diversity.  The result was to violate Catholic Charities’ longstanding, sincerely held religious beliefs, and to harm vulnerable Illinois children, all without conferring the slightest benefit on Illinois’ same-sex couples, who could (and can) qualify as foster parents at over one hundred other agencies in Illinois.”

“The purpose of the brief,” Olp noted, “is to argue that the right of same-sex couples to be foster parents can be accommodated without sacrificing the rights of children and the right of religious freedom. In fact, all of these rights need to be affirmed in order to avoid constitutional harm and harm to vulnerable children. Unfortunately, Illinois did not choose this course in 2011. Our brief asks the Supreme Court in the Fulton case to keep these principles in mind and to protect the right of free exercise of Catholic Social Services, which will also preserve vulnerable children from harm, and permit same-sex couples ample rights to be foster parents.”

The amici brief notes that Illinois presented no evidence that same-sex couples were not readily able to find assessment and qualification services from over 60 Department of Children and Family Services offices and over 50 alternative foster care agencies, stating, “The State’s exclusion of faith-based foster care providers was thus a solution in search of a problem and harmed Illinois children without any countervailing benefit.”

“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 beliefs would not allow them to place hurting children into homosexual civil unions or same-sex marriages,” continued Olp. “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. That is religious discrimination, pure and simple, as prohibited by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Read the Thomas More Society’s filing on behalf of two Illinois Catholic Charities agencies, Brief for Amici Curiae, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Joliet, Inc., in Support of Petitioners, filed June 3, 2020, with the United States Supreme Court in Sharonell Fulton, et al. v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, et al., here.

SOURCE Thomas More Society

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