Deseret News—Religion’s win streak at the Supreme Court continued on Thursday when a unanimous court sided with a Catholic foster care agency in a case pitting religious freedom law against LGBTQ rights.
Justices said the government must offer religious exemptions when it’s willing to offer them for other purposes and can achieve its policy goals through other means.
Officials in Philadelphia violated this precedent by refusing to respect a faith-based objection to same-sex marriage, wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority opinion.
Catholic Social Services “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 wrote.
Five justices joined Roberts’ majority opinion, including the court’s three liberals. Three justices filed concurring opinions. There was no dissenting opinion in the case.
Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, who did not join the majority opinion, described the case as a missed opportunity to overhaul and strengthen the court’s approach to the First Amendment.
“This case presents an important constitutional question that urgently calls out for review: whether this court’s governing interpretation of a bedrock constitutional right, the right to the free exercise of religion, is fundamentally wrong and should be corrected,” wrote Alito in his concurring opinion.
Religious freedom and LGBTQ rights
The Philadelphia case, which originated in 2018, centered on the religious exercise protections offered by the First Amendment.
Catholic Social Services and two of its foster moms, Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, claimed Philadelphia officials violated their religious freedom by refusing to partner with agencies that, for religious reasons, wouldn’t assess whether same-sex couples were suitable to adopt.
Philadelphia asserted that offering religious exemptions to its nondiscrimination rules would work against its goal of recruiting as many foster parents as possible.