The Supreme Court will decide if the city of Philadelphia was correct to terminate its relationship with Catholic Social Services because the agency did not work with same-sex couples in providing foster care.
The case, Fulton v. Philadelphia, will be heard by the Supreme Court at the opening of the next judicial session in October.
In March 2018, Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) was informed that the city would no longer be referring foster children to the agency for assistance because of its faith-based stance on same-sex marriage. The city then passed a resolution calling for an investigation into religiously-based foster care services, after a same-sex couple claimed they were discriminated against by a different faith-based agency.
For over a century, the city of Philadelphia worked with CSS to facilitate the placement of children in foster care. Catholic Social Services also assisted with home visits, training of foster parents, and placements.
CSS has not been the subject of any discrimination complaints by same-sex couples, and had never been asked to certify or endorse a same-sex couple. The agency says that it assists all children in need, regardless of a child’s race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, and, according to Becket, a law firm that promotes religious liberty, no couple had ever been turned away from fostering due to the religious beliefs of Catholic Social Services.
Two foster mothers who worked with CSS, Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, brought the lawsuit against the city. They are being represented by Becket. Fulton has fostered more than 40 children with the assistance of CSS over a period of more than 25 years. Simms-Busch adopted the children she fostered through the agency.
“CSS has been a godsend to my family and so many like others. I don’t think I could have gone through this process without an agency that shares my core beliefs and cares for my children accordingly,” said Toni Simms-Busch in a statement released by Becket.
She said she was “grateful” that the Supreme Court would be considering the case, and hoped the court would “sort out the mess that Philadelphia has created for so many vulnerable foster children.”
Both Simms-Busch and Fulton said that they chose to work with CSS, instead of one of the more than 20 other foster care agencies in Philadelphia, because the Catholic organization matched their personal beliefs and values.
The City of Philadelphia's website says that prospective foster families should look to “find the best fit” when picking an agency.
“You want to feel confident and comfortable with the agency you choose. This agency will be a big support to you during your resource parent journey,” says the website.
Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement that she was “relieved” that the Supreme Court will consider the case, especially in the light of growing numbers of foster care cases in many states.
“Over the last few years, agencies have been closing their doors across the country, all the while children are pouring into the system,” said Windham. “We are confident that the Court will realize that the best solution is the one that has worked in Philadelphia for a century--all hands on deck for foster kids.”
Around the same time that the city severed its relationship with Catholic Social Services, Philadelphia issued a plea for more families to sign up to take in children in need due to a shortage of homes.
Before the relationship ended, CSS served about 120 foster children in 100 foster homes. In 2017, the charity says it helped more than 2,200 children in the Philadelphia area.