Religious freedom advocates are awaiting a major ruling from the Supreme Court this month. It hinges on LGBTQ advocates trying to force a faith-based foster agency to violate its religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court will decide the future of Philadelphia's Catholic Social Services agency which is asking to follow the church's teaching and not partner with same-sex or unmarried couples. It's a high-stakes religious liberty fight.
Dr. Andrew Walker, a professor of ethics with the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says, "What we are contending for in this case is that Catholic Social services have an equal right to participate in the public square—and the way they are serving in the public square is to serve the most needy among us—children without homes."
Regent University Law School Professor Brad Jacob explains, "The Supreme Court told us when they said that the Constitution requires same-sex marriage that of course, the law will protect those that have a different view in their religious or moral conscience, but in many cases, that's not happening."
LGBTQ advocates like the Human Rights Campaign say the case is about discrimination, and a decision against the city of Philadelphia would open a "Pandora's Box" for future discrimination.
But Prof. Walker, who is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, disagrees.
"Discrimination implies locking people out, a class of people out from an entire industry—and that's not what's going on," he says. "What's going on in Fulton is you have one adoption agency that's wanting to operate according to its beliefs."
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Catholic Social Services never actually turned away any gay couples, and there are dozens of Philadelphia foster agencies that work with them, so Prof. Jacob says they can't ultimately lose.
"They can adopt either way—they don't need Catholic Social Services. This is an effort on their part to basically stamp out anyone who doesn't agree with their worldview," he says.
Court watchers are closely watching the case, with its hot-button issues, in the hands of a new conservative majority.
"We have a Supreme Court that's probably for the first time as pro-religious liberty in its design as it has been in perhaps the history of the Supreme Court," Walker says.
The big question with Fulton is how broadly will the justices rule? They could revisit a 1990 case that decimated free exercise of religion and provide a substantial win for people of faith. Or they could announce a narrow decision that would do little to advance either side.