Fulton v. City of Philadelphia: What’s at Stake and Who’s Affected

By Shane Stahl • October 30, 2020 • 3:47 pm

There is so much at stake in the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which the Supreme Court (including newly-sworn in Justice Amy Coney Barrett) will hear on November 4, the day after Election Day. What’s at stake is whether or not taxpayer-funded agencies can deny services to LGBTQ people, even after entering into a government contract.  

There are approximately 440,000 children in the foster care system, and each is deserving of a loving and supportive home. Denying them a stable family unit simply because a prospective parent is LGBTQ only further overwhelms the system and keeps children from finding their forever families. The wrong ruling in this case would mean that foster agencies would be given a constitutional right to discriminate and reduce the number of available homes to children in need, while demanding taxpayer funding to provide their services. 

Freedom of religion matters to all of us — it is a core value enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the history of our country, and we all cherish that freedom. But taxpayer-funded agencies and businesses open to the public that voluntarily enter into government contracts cannot subsequently violate or change the terms of the contract by citing their religion. 

The case also has impacts beyond foster care and adoption. Religious agencies could be permitted to ignore public safety guidelines at food banks, in homeless shelters, hospitals, disaster relief agencies, and other taxpayer-funded services. And it wouldn’t just allow agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people—it could also be used to deny essential government services to people who are Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, or other non-dominant faiths; unmarried people or couples in which one spouse was previously divorced; and others. 

That’s why people are speaking out. More than 1,000 faith leaders and clergy, mayors and local governments, child welfare experts, and others filed nearly 50 friend-of-the-court briefs on the side of the city of Philadelphia, urging the justices not to allow discrimination in taxpayer-funded government services. It’s not just leaders and elected officials speaking out, it’s LGBTQ Americans fearful that they may be denied the chance to adopt simply because of who they are and who they love.  

The following three examples constitute only a small segment of the population who believes that no one should be discriminated against when adopting or fostering a child.  

rabbi teutsch

Rabbi David Teutsch is an educator at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, who says that all people of faith must fight for LGBTQ people as a moral imperative. 

“As a rabbi and professor of Jewish ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, I see equal rights for LGBTQ people as a fundamental civil liberties issue as well as a basic moral demand.” 

Reverend (Dr.) Sarah Carpenter-Vasick is a transgender woman faith leader who has actively engaged her community on issues like adoption within the LGBTQ community. That’s how she firmly knows LGBTQ parents, like all parents, can raise a healthy child. 

“No one in a loving relationship should ever be turned away or prevented from becoming a foster parent simply because they fail the foster agency’s religious litmus test. All the available evidence supports the fact that LGBTQ parents are loving, supportive and raise happy, healthy children. Forcing others to follow one’s personal beliefs does not follow what Christ taught.” 

Elizabeth Griswold and her husband are parents to children adopted through foster care, who are also faith leaders in their community. This issue hits close to home for her, especially since she identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. 

“I am bisexual, and that has nothing to do with the quality of parental care I am offering my daughter. In the county where we adopted, there are over 4,000 foster children in need of loving, responsible families. If LGBTQ individuals are not allowed to provide foster care, more children will suffer unnecessarily… As faith leaders, this issue is very important to us!” 

This case specifically, and the ongoing uncertainty around whether LGBTQ issues will get a fair hearing before the Court, shows exactly why we need an explicit federal nondiscrimination law like the Equality Act. Securing full LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections through Congress will be Freedom for All Americans’ work ahead, no matter what happens in Fulton. 

Click here to learn more about the case, and while you’re there, sign our pledge supporting nationwide nondiscrimination protections.  


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