Supreme Court ruling could impact state, Sunrise Children Services issue

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously sided with a Catholic foster care agency that says its religious views prevent it from working with same-sex couples as foster parents. The justices said the city of Philadelphia wrongly limited its relationship with the group as a result of the agency’s policy.

Philadelphia violated the Constitution in limiting its work with the agency, Catholic Social Services, the court said.

The decision likely impacts the state’s current debate with Sunrise Children Services and its continue to foster children in Kentucky. The Beshear administration has said it was waiting on the court’s decision for guidance before reaching an agreement with the agency which has worked with the state for decades.

Conservative groups and supporters of Sunrise quickly applauded the court’s decision.

“Today’s 9-0 unanimous U.S. Supreme Court Fulton decision has renewed the age-old American standard. In this major victory for religious liberty, we are reminded that ‘Live and Let Live’ is the motto of true American tolerance,” said Kent Ostrander, executive director of the Lexington-based The Family Foundation. “This is in contrast to the culture’s more recently-defined use of the word ‘tolerance’ – tolerance goes both ways.”

Ostrander said the Fulton case is likely to have direct bearing in the current Kentucky debate around Sunrise Children Services and the Gov. Beshear’s desire to terminate their over 40-year contract because Sunrise operates their facilities using Biblical standards, not LGBT standards.

State House Speaker David Osborne and Speaker Pro Tem David Meade issued the following statement on behalf of House Republicans.

“In light of today’s unanimous ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of Catholic Social Services (CSS) in the Fulton v. Philadelphia case, we again ask Governor Beshear to offer the necessary accommodations to Sunrise Children’s Services. The opinion clearly supports the ability of our state to continue a relationship that has ensured Kentucky’s most vulnerable children are cared for by an organization with an impeccable record of service. In fact, Chief Justice John Roberts states that the refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS ‘cannot survive strict scrutiny, and violates the First Amendment.’

“In the opinion, Roberts specifically adds that the faith-based organization ‘seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.’ Governor Beshear, it is time to set aside the political rhetoric and make Kentucky’s children your priority,'” they said.

“Organizations in America, particularly religious institutions, must be able guide their operations according to their own beliefs and not be forced to conform to beliefs of others, and in this case, conform to government pressures,” said Ostrander.

But other groups disagreed.

“We do not believe the Supreme Court Fulton decision has direct implications for the ongoing dispute over Kentucky state contracts with Sunrise Baptist Children’s Services. In the court’s ruling, the heart of the matter is a peculiar provision of the City of Philadelphia’s non-discrimination clause, which allows other exceptions based on the ‘sole discretion’ of the city’s agency commissioner. The court rules that Philadelphia cannot deny religious exceptions if it allows innumerable discretionary exceptions. If Philadelphia had applied its non-discrimination requirement generally, without exception, the case would likely be ruled differently. If Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services is applying its non-discrimination requirements without exception, today’s Supreme Court ruling changes nothing. We believe Kentucky still has every right to refuse to make exceptions for discrimination in state-funded foster and adoption care, and they should,” stated Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign.

“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless it agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny, and violates the First Amendment,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the high court’s decision.

Roberts said the group “seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.”

Catholic Social Services is affiliated with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia learned in 2018 from a newspaper reporter that the agency would not certify same-sex couples to become foster parents. The city has said it requires the two dozen-plus foster care agencies it works with not to discriminate as part of their contracts. The city asked the Catholic agency to change its policy, but the group declined. As a result, Philadelphia stopped referring additional children to the agency.

Catholic Social Services sued, but lower courts sided with Philadelphia.

There is no record that any same-sex couple has ever asked to work with the agency. In such a case, the couple would be referred to a different group, Catholic Social Services has said. Because of its beliefs, the Catholic agency also does not certify unmarried couples.

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