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Council to Weigh in on Supreme Court Case Fulton vs. Philadelphia

U.S. Supreme Court building Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

At next Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the College Park City Council will consider taking a position on the Supreme Court case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.

The case, which will be heard by the Court in the fall, concerns whether Philadelphia is required to continue to contract with a private, faith-based foster care agency, Catholic Social Services (CSS) that refuses to work with same-sex couples, despite the city’s nondiscrimination policies.

The Supreme Court decided to take the case to hear in February this year. Earlier, lower courts ruled in favor of city leaders, so Catholic Social Services appealed to the Supreme Court.

Sharonell Fulton (pictured below), a foster parent in Philadelphia, joined in a lawsuit challenging the city of Philadelphia for barring Catholic Social Services of the Philadelphia Archdiocese from placing children in foster families. The Catholic Social Services (CSS) has been operating in Philadelphia since 1797.

Sharonell Fulton, a foster parent in Philadelphia, is pictured with a young woman and children in a May 23, 2018, photo.

If approved by the City Council, College Park will participate in an amicus brief to be submitted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to the Supreme Court. An amicus brief is a legal document that can be filed in a court case by people who are not litigants in the case but have an interest in the case or subject matter. In addition, those who are looking to notarize their documents may consider visiting the nearest notary public in your area.

More details about the case and the amicus brief itself can be found in the City of New York’s primer on the brief here. The primer also includes a request for information that can help demonstrate the impact of potential rulings, including examples of services provided by a jurisdiction.

This case could ultimately impact the ability of local governments to enforce nondiscrimination policies when working with contractors on a wide range of city services.

Supreme Court justices will consider whether the government violates the First Amendment by conditioning a religious agency’s ability to participate in the foster care system on taking actions and making statements that directly contradict the agency’s religious beliefs, among 2 other questions.

Several groups have recently taken positions on both sides of the case. While groups such as the City of New York are filing a brief in support of the City of Philadelphia,  34 friend-of-the-court briefsdozens of diverse religious groups76 Members of Congress16 states, have sided with CSS and have asked the Supreme Court to protect faith-based agencies.

According to the critics, the City of Philadelphia has terminated its contract with the CSS even though no same-sex couple has ever approached CSS for an endorsement. Furthermore, they argue that if asked, the CSS would meet the adoption needs of a same-sex couple by referring to one of 29 other agencies, including several with expertise in serving LGBTQ families.

[Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of mine alone and are not necessarily those of City of College Park, or any other organization that I’m officially affiliated]


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  1. Linda Ferrete

    Dr. Kabir,

    Thank you. I forwarded it to my husband and others.

    Linda Ferrete

  2. Lee Havis

    As a College Park resident, let me offer my position in opposition to having the city of College Park take sides and get involved in this controversial legal matter in another state. The main reason is this involvement is unnecessary and distracting to the basic function of the city council to care for local citizens here. As a secondary issue, the question of denying an otherwise good function of a private religious agency from helping place foster care children in loving, supportive homes, just to advance a controversial social agenda, is not in the best interests of unity and harmony among city residents here.

  3. Nick Brennan

    Its really a simple question – a private agency should not be receiving public funds to operate a program where they discriminate. The city of Philadelphia is not insisting that CSS change their beliefs. The decision that will be made will have an impact on all cities so it is relevant for College Park to sign on to the amicus brief.

    I’d like to note that contrary to what you said in your post, Dr. Kabir, that referring a same-sex couple to another agency is NOT meeting anyone’s adoption needs. That would be like saying a hospital is meeting my medical needs by refusing service and giving me the name of another hospital. Having been through the adoption process twice, I’d love to talk with you offline about the process of adoption so you can better understand.

    This is really only a controversial issue for those who continue to wish to deny the LGBTQ+ community equal rights.

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