Fulton v. City of Philadelphia
In 2018, the City of Philadelphia suspended a contract with Catholic Social Services (“CSS”) to provide foster care placement services because the agency refused to work with married same-sex couples and unmarried couples, violating Philadelphia’s nondiscrimination ordinance. CSS sued the city, claiming, among other things, that the City’s actions violated its rights of free exercise of religion. Seeking an injunction* against the City, CSS lost in the federal trial court and then again on appeal. The case is now scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court on November 4, 2020.
Now headed to the Supreme Court, Fulton is poised to be a landmark case on the question of whether religiously-based social welfare organizations that receive taxpayer dollars through local government contracts can be exempt from the government’s nondiscrimination laws. There is a possibility that a decision in Fulton could come to mean that nearly any religious entity, or even a private company asserting its religious beliefs, would have permission to refuse to serve or work with anyone simply because of who they are.
So many people rely on government-funded entities like CSS to fulfill essential needs — for food, housing, health care, and more. This case could lay the foundation for the reversal of protections on which the most vulnerable in our community rely to ensure equal access to goods and services. It could also require the government at all levels to fund discriminatory groups. That’s why GLAD, joined by 27 other national, regional, and state LGBTQ advocacy organizations, filed a friend-of-the-court brief on August 20, 2020 in support of the City of Philadelphia’s position, urging the U.S. Supreme Court not to introduce a broad exemption to nondiscrimination laws that would undermine Constitutional equal protection guarantees and introduce a dangerous and unworkable scheme into local, state, and federal lawmaking.