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April 23, 2019

Court rules Philly can exclude Catholic Social Services from foster care services for refusing gay couples

Courts Foster Care
US Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

A U.S. appeals court has ruled that the city of Philadelphia legally can exclude a child welfare agency that refuses to place children looking for foster parents with same-sex couples.

The unanimous ruling came on Monday against Catholic Social Services. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges determined that Catholic Social Services failed to show how a placement freeze by Philadelphia amounted to religious persecution or bias against the agency, Reuters reported. Catholic Social Services unsuccessfully had argued that the city's policy violated the agency's First Amendment rights.

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"The question in our case is ... whether CSS was treated differently because of its religious beliefs," Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro wrote in the decision. "Based on the record before us, that question has a clear answer: no."

The court battle began in March 2018 when CSS sued the city for failing to refer children to the agency, despite its unwillingness to issue foster care licenses to same-sex couples. Last summer, a federal district court denied the agency's preliminary injunction that would resume its referrals. And the U.S. Supreme Court denied CSS's request to intervene. 

At that time, the ACLU regarded the Philadelphia court decision as the first to rule a government-contracted child welfare agency does not have a right to exclude same-sex couples from fostering children.

Mayor Jim Kenney applauded the move, calling it a "thoughtful decision" that "ensures that same-sex couples do not face discrimination" and "safeguards religious liberties."

Catholic Social Service's lawyers told Reuters the decision was "devastating" and that they would "continue this fight."

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