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This Will Be Amy Coney Barrett's First Religious Liberty Case

10-28-2020
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(Image credit: Becket Law)

New justice Amy Coney Barrett will hear her first Supreme Court religious liberty case on Nov. 4, the day after the election. It involves a Catholic foster care agency barred from caring for children because it said it wouldn’t place them with same-sex married couples.

The City of Philadelphia says no one can discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Catholic Social Services holds the biblically-based belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. It hadn’t turned away any gay married couples who wanted to foster, but just that belief alone about marriage got the agency booted out of the foster care business with Philadelphia.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is fighting for Catholic Social Services foster moms and dads who say this is a violation of the agency’s religious liberty.

Can Government Force You to Change What You Believe?

“This is a really landmark case for religious liberty,” Becket Executive Director Montse Alvarado told CBN News. “It’s about the power of the government: whether the government can force you to change what you believe when you’re trying to be a part of the solution when you’re trying to identify a social ill and really be there to make a difference.”

Alvarado said the government can’t just order people of faith to change their religious beliefs. They’re truths, not opinions.

“A lot of people don’t realize religious beliefs are not like policies,” Alvarado insisted. “Religious beliefs are things that come from the foundational teachings of a religion. They are very, very old.”

So you can’t just swap them out for what government says you should believe.   

The fear among religious liberty advocates is that if Philadelphia wins this case, it would make municipalities around the nation feel freer to punish religious people or organizations that may hold beliefs that don’t fit with what’s currently politically correct.

Children Who Might Have Been Fostered Weren’t

Philadelphia’s tossing out Catholic Social Services in 2018 had an immediate negative impact on hurting children.

“The day after this policy was put in place, the city of Philadelphia said there were 300 homes that were needed for these children,” Alvarado said.

Toni Simms-Busch is one of those foster moms fighting Philadelphia in this case. She said Catholic Social Services could have placed many of those children who ended up going un-fostered.

Children are Hurt, Their Communities are Hurt

“Our communities are negatively affected. We have more crime. It’s just an extremely vicious, non-stop, growing cycle of devastation,” Simms-Busch said of what happens when children can’t be fostered or adopted.

She’s thankful for the kids she was able to rescue before Catholic Social Services was booted out.

“I look at my boys every day and I thank God that they didn’t have to continue in that negative cycle,” Simms-Busch said. “But it’s painful to know that had it not been for Catholic Social Services, they may not have had that opportunity.”

Simms-Busch said of children left un-fostered, “These children are left with less of a chance to become successful…less of a chance to finish schooling…to have families of their own who are productive.

‘Our Hearts Dropped’

The little girls they’ve been fostering are the joy of Catholic Social Services foster parents Cathy and Donald Knapke’s life.   

“We just knew that we always wanted to foster,” Cathy said. “And our girls are awesome.”

“The best thing that could’ve happened to us,” Donald chimed in.

“When we found out that Catholic Social Services had to close their doors, our hearts dropped,” Cathy recalled. “We started to wonder about all those other children.  What’s going to happen or where are they going to go?”

Several recent religious liberty cases have done well in the Supreme Court. With devout Catholic Amy Coney Barrett added to the ranks of justices and helping to solidify a more conservative, more constitutionalist majority, that trend is likely to continue.

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