Imagine losing your business because you back the biblical definition of marriage. Some faith-based foster and adoption agencies have faced that fate. But in Philadelphia, foster moms are fighting back and taking the battle all the way to the US Supreme Court.
They're getting some help from the latest addition to Regent University, the Robertson Center for Constitutional Law.
Foster moms like Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch have long adored Philadelphia-based Catholic Social Services for the way it went above and beyond helping them nurture foster children.
"This particular Catholic charity had faithfully served the people of Philadelphia for over a hundred years," said Mark Martin, Regent University's Law School dean who's also leading the new Robertson Center.
Booted for Biblical Belief
Philadelphia, however, severed ties with the agency because the faith-based charity refused to abandon its belief in the biblical definition of marriage.
Fulton and Simms-Busch sued Philadelphia and their case has made it all the way to the high court.
Melissa Buck understands how the Philly foster moms feel. St. Vincent's, which the Bucks rely on tremendously for help with their five adopted kids, faces Michigan booting it out. That'll be such a waste, she told CBN News.
For the Faith-Based, It's a Calling
"We've seen such a difference working with a faith-based agency. Agencies like St. Vincent's and in Philadelphia, they just have such a different mindset," Buck said. "They don't see this as just a job. They're very invested in this. It's a calling for them."
Regent's Martin – who is the former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice – saw the attack on Catholic Social Services and its supporters as a clear infringement on religious liberty.
Constitutional Rights Denied
"We saw where the constitutional rights of a Catholic charity and the people it served were denied," he said.
"So my heart hurts for that," Buck added. "It also made me very nervous for the kids who are coming into care. That they wouldn't have access to an agency like St. Vincent's."
The Robertson Center for Constitutional Law filed an amicus brief for the Philadelphia case. The brief asks that the Court turn its back on its 1990 ruling in Employment Division v. Smith. That decided a general law that's passed with no intention of hurting someone's religious beliefs – even if it does hurt them – is constitutional.
Second-Class First Amendment Right
That went against the long history of the Court being careful to balance government interest and the free exercise of religion.
The Robertson Center's brief reads: "Employment Division v. Smith upset that balance. It uprooted precedent, ignored the fundamental logic of the Free Exercise Clause, and transformed religious exercise into a second-class First Amendment right. "
In asking the Court to correct this, Martin said, "I have great confidence that the Court desires to make sure that Americans enjoy freedom of religion."
The US Justice Department is taking the same side as the Robertson Center and against Philadelphia, saying in its own brief that the city's actions, "reflect unconstitutional hostility toward Catholic Social Services' religious beliefs."
Buck can't believe agencies that do so much good might – just for standing by their religious beliefs – get wiped out by government bureaucrats.
"It's hurtful," Buck said of the actions taken by Michigan and Philadelphia. "I don't think they're looking at the potential damage that this is going to cause to the system, to over-running it, to losing foster families who are unwilling to go to these overcrowded agencies."
"One of the Giants in the Defense of Religious Liberty"
The Robertson Center for Constitutional Law won't just be weighing in at court. It also seeks to educate.
Martin explained, "We're training the next generation of advocates to defend our Constitution."
The new center's honorary co-chair, former judge Kenneth Starr, spoke of the Christian Broadcasting Network founder for whom the center is named, saying, "Pat Robertson – one of the giants in the defense of religious liberty."
It's for that cause that Starr said the center's educational mission is so crucial.
What Every Friend of Liberty Needs
"Every friend of liberty needs to have the tools at hand so he or she can stand effectively – in school board meetings, or city council sessions, or just over coffee with neighbors – as a sentinel of religious freedom, a watchman of religious liberty," Starr explained.
Martin added, "As President Trump shared during his speech at the United Nations last fall, approximately 80 percent of the world's population lives in countries where freedom of religion is limited, restricted or outright banned."
He assured the Robertson Center for Constitutional Law will fight hard to make sure that doesn't happen here in America.
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