Finally, something we can celebrate. The city of Philadelphia’s decision not to send foster children to agencies that refuse to work with same-sex couples was unanimously vindicated by an appellate court.
In a 3-0 decision, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Catholic Social Services failed to show that the placement freeze amounted to religious persecution or bias, violating its First Amendment rights to free speech and religious freedom.
Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro said Philadelphia was trying merely to stop what it considered a “clear violation” of a city anti-discrimination law covering sexual orientation, making a preliminary injunction inappropriate.
“The question in our case is … whether CSS was treated differently because of its religious beliefs,” Ambro wrote. “Based on the record before us, that question has a clear answer: no.”
It was a reasonable decision backing up a logical rule meant to prevent taxpayer-funded discrimination. Any agency that wanted to work with the city to place children in loving homes simply had to abide by non-discrimination rules. But the Catholic agency felt excluding gay couples mattered more than helping the children. The city decided not to work with them, which the court agreed was well within its right, and now the bigots are furious.
Lori Windham, a lawyer from the Becket nonprofit representing the agency, called the decision “devastating” to hundreds of foster children waiting for placements and parents waiting to foster a child. “We will continue this fight.”
Jim Kenney, Philadelphia’s mayor, welcomed the decision.
“Philadelphia is a welcoming, inclusive city that values the diversity of its residents,” Kenney said in a statement. “This policy is the embodiment of those values.”
The decision isn’t “devastating” to the foster children because agencies that prioritize them will help them find good homes. Religious foster care agencies shouldn’t be rewarded for refusing to consider same-sex couples as worthy of expanding their families.
It’s nice to see the city standing up for the rights of a vulnerable minority, especially in the Trump era. Perhaps more importantly, the decision could create a precedent for other courts to use in many similar lawsuits that are active right now.
Specifically, this could come to play in the case involving the state of Michigan, which was sued by a Catholic foster care agency after the state stripped anti-gay agencies of funding.
This decision in Philadelphia wasn’t against religion. It was against discrimination. It says a lot that the Catholic group couldn’t tell the difference.
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