Even though Catholic Social Services had not turned away same-sex or unmarried couples in adoption referrals, the city, which has a monopoly on the area foster care system, cut its partnership with them in March of 2018 over their religious beliefs on marriage. The city also passed a resolution calling for an investigation of religious foster care agencies after a same-sex couple complained of discrimination by a seperate faith-based agency.
Catholic Social Services is barred from making new placements unless they agree to recommend same-sex couples to adopt children.
Currently, the organization is only serving children they have already placed with foster care families and is on a “wind-down” contract. They have already begun laying off employees, even though there are families who want to adopt children and work with Catholic Social Services.
“That is one where the agency is urgently pushing and does need the help, because the city has cut them off from all new placements,” Rienzi said. “That’s a real, ongoing harm to the agency, that’s a real, ongoing harm to those families who have signed up to do the very noble work of fostering, and it’s also a real, ongoing harm to a bunch of kids whose names we don’t know.”
The Supreme Court agreed in February to hear the case which is now scheduled for the fall 2020 term. Becket’s opening brief in the case is due May 27, and amicus briefs in support of Catholic Social Services are due June 3.
As the briefings are moving forward, “in the ordinary course, we’d expect that case to be argued in October,” Rienzi said, but that timeline could also be affected by the coronavirus.
Several religious freedom cases have already been argued and are fully briefed, so a decision can be expected “any day now,” Rienzi said. “The justices have indicated that they are still continuing proceeding with their decisions.”
One of those is Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue which involves students using state scholarships to attend religious schools.
A trio of cases argued in the fall involves whether or not existing Title VII civil rights protections against sex discrimination also apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. Those cases are Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, and Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC.
As with Espinoza, decisions in those cases could be published any day now, Rienzi said.
Two other cases—Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel—involve the “ministerial exception.” The cases focus on whether or not two Catholic schools in California are free to fire religion teachers without adverse action by the courts, due to the “ministerial exception.”
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Becket, which represents the schools, says that the courts and government cannot “second-guess” the employment decisions of religious institutions regarding staff members who provide religious instruction to children.
The cases were scheduled to be argued in March but have been postponed. As with the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, all the briefs have been submitted and thus it is unclear what the timeline will be for these cases, Rienzi said.
“The justices have said that they will consider their options in light of changing events as things go forward,” he said. “We’re kind of waiting to see what happens, and what the Court says is possible.”