The Supreme Court today declined to intervene in a dispute between the city of Philadelphia and Catholic Social Services over foster care and the Catholic Church’s position on same-sex marriage. Catholic Social Services had asked the justices to block an “intake freeze” on the new placements of foster children in the agency’s foster-care program while it appeals a district court’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, but the Supreme Court denied the agency’s request. Three justices – Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – indicated that they would have granted the agency’s application, leaving the agency two votes short of the five that it would have needed.
The events giving rise to the lawsuit began last spring, when the city’s department of human services suspended new placements of foster children in CSS’ foster-care program because the agency refused to certify same-sex couples who wanted to be foster parents. CSS went to federal district court, arguing that the policy violates its right to freely exercise its religion. After a three-day hearing, the district court denied the agency’s request for temporary relief, and the 3rd Circuit rejected the agency’s request to put the freeze on hold while it reviews the agency’s appeal.
CSS then went to the Supreme Court for relief, telling the justices that if they do not step in, the city’s “vindictive conduct will lead to displaced children, empty homes, and the closure of a 100-year-old ministry,” while the city will not be harmed at all. The city countered that it is simply putting conditions on how government foster-care funds can be spent, and here CSS’ contract with the city requires it to comply with the city’s nondiscrimination policies and laws.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.