By Yaakov Menken
DECEMBER 31, 2020
Frankly, it’s quite scary to see such open hostility to free, diverse religious practice from a city government — and one could hardly seek more decisive proof that freedom of religion is, in fact, on trial in this case.
The threat here is clear, and not limited to Catholics. In Judaism, we believe it essential to raise a Jewish child to learn both our books and our observances. If applied consistently, the city’s argument would prohibit a Jewish agency from insisting upon placing a Jewish child in a Jewish home. Rather than demonstrating the First Amendment’s respect for different traditions and beliefs, Philadelphia is demanding universal conformity to state doctrine.
What is most troubling in all of this is that the city has lost sight of the ultimate goal: to serve children in need of foster care. There is a grave shortage of families willing to open their homes to foster children, and religious agencies, by working specifically within their faith communities, can expand that pool.
Plaintiff Sharonell Fulton is but one of many who are certified by Catholic Social Services and have room in their homes to care for children. The city is keeping these foster care providers on the sidelines because of CSS’s religious beliefs, offering only theoretical arguments about hypothetical harms to justify callous denial of homes to children in need.
As was clear at oral argument, no same-sex couple has been prevented from fostering or adopting by Catholic Social Services, or ever would be. Were such a couple to ever present itself to CSS, attorney Lori Windham told the court, CSS would help the couple to find one of the many other agencies that can assist them and better attend to their needs.