Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Christian Adoption Agency Case With 3 Major Implications for Religious Freedom

March 20, 2020
Christian Adoption Agency Case | First Liberty

by Jorge Gomez • 6 min read

Opponents of religious freedom are brazenly determined—more than ever before—to stop adoption and foster organizations from operating consistently with their faith.

Across the country, we see case after case of religious institutions being dragged into grueling court battles just so they can serve their local community without having to violate their religious convictions. Because of the brazen hostility, many of them are put in the untenable position of choosing between their deeply-held beliefs…or being shut down altogether.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court recently announced that it will hear an important case that could potentially deliver a major victory and help faith-based adoption agencies reclaim their religious freedom. The High Court’s ruling on this case could have a lasting effect in three major ways, and our team of experts have outlined them below:

  1. Can the Government Force Faith-Based Adoption Agencies Out of Business?

    How the Supreme Court rules in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia will determine whether governments can force faith-based adoption and foster care agencies out of business because they choose to operate in accordance with their faith.

    To give you some background on this case, last year the city of Philadelphia issued a restriction requiring faith-based agencies to place children with same-sex couples. When Catholic Social Services (CSS) refused to comply, it lost its contract with the city. CSS then filed a lawsuit claiming that the city of Philadelphia discriminated against them by refusing to place children with the agency because of its beliefs.

    In a twist of irony, following the termination of CSS’s contract, the city had to issue an urgent, public appeal for new foster families due to its inability to find homes for 6,000 children in need of a place to call home.

    Of course, the implications of this case will be vast, not just for CSS and the children of Philadelphia, but also for the more than 400,000 American children who rely on foster care to be rescued from the kind of abuse or neglect most of us can (thankfully) only imagine.

    A decision in favor of CSS, in essence, could help ensure faith-based agencies nationwide can continue serving children in need without the government forcing them to forego their convictions or close their doors.

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  1. Overturning One of the Most Troublesome Precedents in Modern Memory

    Hearing this case will also give the Supreme Court an opportunity to review Employment Division v. Smith, one of the most troubling precedents to religious freedom in the last half-century.

    When the Court handed down the Smith decision in 1990, it expanded the government’s power to restrict the free exercise of religion through laws that are “neutral” or “generally applicable.” Since then, that opinion has been used by hostile opponents and activists to justify restrictions on Americans’ right to freely live out their faith.

    However, you may recall that just one year ago, four Justices of the Supreme Court—Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh—issued a rare concurring statement to First Liberty’s petition in Coach Joe Kennedy’s case. In it, they expressed concern about Employment Division v. Smith and opened the door to a possible review of that ruling.

    That’s why the Catholic Social Services case is so important. It presents a prime opportunity for the Court to overturn Employment Division v. Smith and reaffirm that religious freedom is a fundamental right deserving of robust legal protection.

  2. Reclaiming the First Amendment’s Original Intent

    Finally, although this case only involves a dispute between a one municipal government and a single faith-based agency, it does bring to the forefront a bigger cultural conflict facing people of faith today.

    Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) legalizing same-sex marriage, state and local governments continue to struggle in finding the balance between the Court’s precedent and the Constitution’s guarantee of religious liberty for all.

    How the Court rules in the Catholic Social Services case could help clarify the original intent of the First Amendment, which requires the government to respect the diverse beliefs of all Americans. The final outcome will be impactful for those who look to their religious beliefs on the matter of marriage, especially when those beliefs are unpopular or run contrary to the modern cultural orthodoxy.

    Coercing people of faith to conform to state-approved cultural norms at expense of their rights to free speech and religious freedom isn’t just starkly un-American…it’s unconstitutional.

    Hopefully, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a positive ruling for religious freedom, so that Americans don’t have to check their religious beliefs at the door in order to care for the most vulnerable among us.

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