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Supreme Court to Decide if Faith-Based Foster Agencies Can Follow Their Own Biblical Beliefs

02-24-2020
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ABOVE: Becket Senior Counsel Lori Windham appeared on CBN News' Faith Nation to discuss the case and what the decision will mean for faith-based adoption agencies. Faith Nation is seen weeknights on the CBN News Channel. For a programming schedule, click here

A religious rights case over faith-based adoptions and same-sex couples is heading to the US Supreme Court.  The high court on Monday announced the decision to hear Fulton v. Philadelphia.

Philadelphia foster moms Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch are defending the faith-based agency that brought their families together. Starting in 2018, the City of Philadelphia began targeting and threatening to shut down Catholic Social Services unless it violates its sincere beliefs.

As CBN News has reported, Catholic Social Services has partnered with the city for over 50 years in placing foster children with families. Last year, the city threatened to close the agency because it disagreed with the agency's biblical belief that marriage is between one man and one woman -- even though not one LGBTQ couple had applied with the agency.

Sharonell Fulton, represented by Becket, a non-profit public-interest law firm, has fostered more than 40 children over 25 years in partnership with Catholic Social Services (CSS) in Philadelphia, and Toni Simms-Busch is a former social worker who recently adopted the children she fostered through CSS. Both mothers chose CSS because the agency shares their most deeply held values and beliefs, and both have relied heavily on CSS's support during their foster care journey. 

A federal appeals court last year ruled against the foster mothers and CSS, who are now urging the Supreme Court to protect a ministry that serves Philadelphia's most vulnerable, at-risk children. 

"CSS has been a godsend to my family and so many like ours. I don't think I could have gone through this process without an agency that shares my core beliefs and cares for my children accordingly," Toni Simms-Busch said in a statement. "We are so grateful that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear our case and sort out the mess that Philadelphia has created for so many vulnerable foster children."

"There's no reason to single out and punish adoption providers who are motivated by their sincerely held religious beliefs that the best home for a child includes a mother and father.  When the government decides whose faith is or is not acceptable, we all lose," said Keisha Russell, counsel to First Liberty Institute.

The case will not be argued until the fall.

According to Becket, there are 6,000 foster children in the City of Philadelphia. The need to find those children homes is so dire that earlier this year the city put out an urgent call for 300 new families to become foster parents. But shortly after this call for help, the city inexplicably prohibited Catholic Social Services from placing any more children with the families it has certified—solely because of the agency's religious beliefs. 

There are dozens of families licensed to foster through Catholic Social Services who are willing to take in children, but because of the city's actions, their beds have remained empty for close to a year.

"I'm relieved to hear that the Supreme Court will weigh in on faith-based adoption and foster care," said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket. "Over the last few years, agencies have been closing their doors across the country, and all the while children are pouring into the system. We are confident that the Court will realize that the best solution is the one that has worked in Philadelphia for a century—all hands on deck for foster kids." 

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