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ERLC calls Supreme Court ruling in Fulton “a decisive 9-0 win for religious freedom”

June 17, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 17, 2021—The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling today in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia as a decisive win for religious freedom. The ruling is significant because it ensures that faith-based foster care and adoption providers, such as Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia, can continue serving children and families according to their convictions.

Daniel Patterson, acting president of the ERLC, commented on today’s ruling:

“This is a decisive 9-0 win for religious freedom at the Supreme Court. The government has many God-given duties, but punishing a group for its theology is emphatically not one of them. That’s the upshot of the ruling this morning, and that’s a good thing. It’s important to note as well that this decision prohibits no one from serving children — it simply ends state discrimination against religious groups. We must all remember what matters most is caring for children. If the government boxes out religious organizations and prohibits them from providing foster care and adoption services, the net effect is a massive shortage of available homes. Children in need should not be collateral damage in a culture war.”

The question before the justices in the Fulton case was whether or not Philadelphia’s rule excluding Catholic Social Services from the city’s foster care program violated the Free Exercise Clause. The ERLC filed an amicus brief alongside a diverse coalition of churches and religious institutions arguing that the government infringed on Catholic Social Services free exercise rights.

Thankfully, today the Court held that the “refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless the agency agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny and violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”

Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, policy director for the ERLC, noted the importance of today’s decision for the child-welfare community:

“Today’s Fulton decision is good news for children and families because we need a foster care system that welcomes all who are qualified to serve all who are in need. The Supreme Court is not preventing anyone from serving, rather it rightly found that Philadelphia’s exclusion of Catholic Social Services because of their theological convictions was wrong. The state should not punish providers and families for their faith and doing so is not only unconstitutional but also undermines the very purpose of child-welfare work — to place children in safe, permanent, and loving homes. Christians and the institutions formed from our churches are critical to the foundation of foster care in this country. Children are best served when we all work together.”

The ERLC has been involved in this case specifically, and these issues more broadly, for years. Recent research from Barna revealed that practicing Christians are more than twice as likely to adopt relative to the general population, as highlighted by Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in a fact sheet on faith-based communities involvement in foster care. For more from the ERLC on this case, see this podcast episode from Capitol Conversations with Lori Windham, senior counsel for Becket. Windham argued the case on behalf of Catholic Social Services and foster moms, Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch.

Jeff Pickering

Jeff Pickering is the director of the Initiative on Faith & Public Life, a project of the American Enterprise Institute. AEI is a leading public policy think tank in Washington, DC and the initiative exists to equip Christian college students for faithful engagement in public life. Jeff moved to Washington … Read More