The city told the agency that future contracts would explicitly require agencies to certify same-sex couples and that the city "has no intention of granting an exception" to the Catholic organization. The motion to appeal charged that the refusal to grant an exemption failed to pass legal scrutiny, given the existence of other relevant secular exemptions. It added that the city targeted religious agencies, not secular ones, for investigation.
The Catholic program will be forced to close if the contract isn't restored. It has asked the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to issue an order by Aug. 2. The new policy has already forced the agency to move two employees to other offices in the archdiocese, Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Windham praised foster parents like Cecelia Paul, who has fostered over 100 children, and is another plaintiff in the suit.
"Foster children deserve loving homes, and foster parents like Ms. Paul have been waiting with open arms to welcome them," said Windham. "But the trial court allowed the city to continue its harmful policy – a decision we expect to change with this appeal."
Catholic Social Services has worked in the city for more than a century and has partnered with the City of Philadelphia for 50 years. The agency cannot provide foster services at all without a city contract. The agency aids the foster families it works with through provision of resources, training and guidance. The agency does this work because of its religious beliefs, Becket said.
In 2017 the Catholic agency placed 266 children and aided more than 2,200 children in the Philadelphia area.
Catholic Social Services has not been the subject of discrimination complaints by same-sex couples. The agency says that it assists all children in need, regardless of a child's race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
In March, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News reported that both the Catholic agency and Bethany Christian Services had a policy not to place children with same-sex couples. In response, Bethany Christian Services changed its policy. The city works with 29 foster care agencies in all.
At the time of the March news report, Department of Human Services spokeswoman Heather Keafer said both groups' positions was "deeply concerning," considering the city's ongoing effort to recruit more self-identified LGBTQ people to become foster parents.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has backed the city and has said the case could have consequences for similar cases in Michigan and Texas.
The conflict comes amid a strong political push to limit religious freedom protections. Millions of dollars in grants have helped fund efforts to argue against religious freedom considered discriminatory on LGBT issues and reproductive rights. CNA has recorded about $8.5 million in foundation grants earmarked for such purposes, including grants to the American Civil Liberties Union.
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Catholic adoption and foster agencies in other states have been shut down or defunded because they do not place children with same-sex couples.