WASHINGTON — In a unanimous decision June 17, the Supreme Court said that a Catholic social service agency should not have been excluded from Philadelphia’s foster care program because it did not accept same-sex couples as foster parents.
Although the court said
Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination laws put an unfair burden on Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services, the justices did not issue a sweeping ruling on religious rights or overturn its previous decision involving religious liberty in Employment Division v. Smith.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the opinion in Fulton v. Philadelphia, said the service agency “seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.”
He also said the city’s actions of excluding the agency burdened its “religious exercise by putting it to the choice of curtailing its mission or approving relationships inconsistent with its beliefs.”
The case centered on Philadelphia’s 2018 exclusion of the foster program of Catholic Social Services of the Philadelphia Archdiocese because of the agency’s policy of not placing children with same-sex couples or unmarried couples because these unions go against Church teaching on traditional marriage.
In a June 18 statement, the chairmen of the USCCB’s pro-life and domestic policy committees and its subcommittee on defense of marriage praised the court’s decision, saying it upheld America’s long tradition of being a “tolerant people who respect each other’s deepest differences.”
They said the court’s unanimous ruling reinvigorated “the First Amendment’s promise that religious believers can bring the full vitality of their faith to their charitable service and to the public square. This is a victory for the common good and for thousands of children who rely on religious foster care and adoption agencies to find a loving home with a mother and father, which is their right.”
During oral arguments, Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh mentioned more than once that same-sex couples had never been rejected by the Catholic agency because they had not ever approached the agency, and if they had, they would have been referred to another foster agency in the city.
“We need to find a balance that also respects religious beliefs,” Kavanaugh said.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor similarly pointed to working out a path forward, asking one of the attorneys siding with the city: “If one wanted to find a compromise in this case, can you suggest one that wouldn’t do real damage to all the various lines of laws that have been implicated here?”
Individual mandate upheld
In a 7-2 decision June 17, the Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, saying the states that sued over the law did not have the legal right to do so.
In the case, California v. Texas, the plaintiffs — 18 Republican states and two individuals — argued that the law’s individual mandate requiring nearly all Americans to have insurance was unconstitutional. They further argued that because a 2017 amendment to the 2010 law nullified the penalty for not having even minimal health insurance, the entire law must be struck down.
Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring a suit against the mandate because they could not show an injury stemming from its enforcement. Dissenting were Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.
“The Catholic Health Association of the United States welcomes today’s decision by the Supreme Court protecting the Affordable Care Act,” said Mercy Sister Mary Haddad, CHA’s CEO and president.
She said that as the organization’s members continue to review the decision and its future implications, they were assured the ruling gave “a needed source of stability for individuals and families who rely on the protections and coverage” in the health care law.
The Catholic Health Association of the United States, which includes more than 2,200 Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, systems, sponsors and related organizations, filed a brief in support of the petitioners in this case.
In her reaction June 17, Sister Haddad said the Catholic Health Association views affordable health care as a basic human right and its members look “forward to working with members of Congress and the administration to ensure this goal becomes a reality for all Americans.”