The U.S. Supreme Court accepted a major new religious-rights case, agreeing to decide whether Catholic Social Services can be excluded from Philadelphia’s foster-care system because the group won’t place children with same-sex couples.
A federal appeals court said Philadelphia, which contracts with private charities to help place children, could enforce a city anti-discrimination law by requiring those groups to work with gay and lesbian couples. The Supreme Court will hear arguments and rule during the nine-month term that starts in October.
Catholic Social Services said in its appeal that the ruling “threatens the future of Catholic foster and adoption agencies throughout the country.”
The case could strengthen the constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion. The appeal asks the court to overrule a 1990 Supreme Court decision that has drawn criticism from religious-rights advocates in recent years.
That 6-3ruling, known as Employment Division v. Smith and written by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, said the government can enforce generally applicable laws without making an exception for religious groups. The case involved the sacramental use of peyote, a cactus plant with hallucinogenic properties, by American Indians.
Philadelphia says it has long barred foster-care contractors from turning away potential parents based on protected characteristics like sexual orientation and race.
“The city is lawfully permitted to include nondiscrimination requirements in its city-funded contracts for city services, and it did so here for legitimate secular reasons,” Philadelphia argued.
The city, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, urged the court to turn away the appeal without a hearing.
The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has expanded religious rights in recent years.
The case is Fulton v. Philadelphia,19-123.
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