WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court said Monday it will decide another clash between religion and gay rights, this time involving Philadelphia's refusal to contract with Catholic Social Services over the group's refusal to place foster children with same-sex couples.
The court agreed to hear an appeal from religious-rights advocates who argue that excluding the Catholic agency from the city program violated the 1st Amendment's protection for the "free exercise" of religion.
Philadelphia said it required its contractors to abide by the city's civil rights provisions, including a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation. Catholic groups had been involved in placing foster children for more than century, but church officials refused to make a written commitment to consider same-sex couples. They contended that doing so would violate their sincere religious beliefs about marriage.
The city then ended its contract with the group and said it no longer had the authority to place foster children. A federal judge and the 3rd Circuit Court upheld the city's decision, saying it was based on a sincere commitment to its policy of non-discrimination and was not a targeted attack on religion.
Lawyers for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty appealed, and the court said Monday it would hear the case of Fulton vs. City of Philadelphia.
"The next big religious freedom case just landed at #SCOTUS. Philly is trying to shut down a 100-year-old Catholic ministry over the ministry's religious beliefs about marriage," Lori Windham, a Becket lawyer, said in response to the court's announcement.
The American Civil Liberties Union had joined Philadelphia in defense of its policy of non-discrimination.
"When agencies choose to accept taxpayer dollars to provide this critically important government service to children, the needs of children must come first," Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, said in response. "This case could have profound consequences for the more than 400,000 children in foster care across the country. We already have a severe shortage of foster families willing and able to open their hearts and homes to these children."
The court will hear arguments in the case during the fall.
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