Philadelphia officials last week released a new antibias policy enacted by a Christian agency that receives city funds to provide foster-care services for children in the city’s custody.
Officials say the new policy provides adequate antibias protections for the LGBT community, but some advocates disagree.
Bethany Christian Services of the Greater Delaware Valley came under scrutiny in March after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the agency turned away a lesbian couple who wanted to serve as foster parents.
The city initiated an investigation of its 30 foster-care providers and determined that Catholic Social Services also discriminates against same-sex couples in the provision of foster-care services on behalf of the city.
Foster-child referrals to both agencies were promptly suspended pending the investigation’s outcome. On June 29, city officials resumed referring foster-care children to Bethany after the agency adopted an antibias policy that putatively covers the LGBT community.
Foster-child referrals to CSS remain suspended. But in May, CSS filed suit in federal court to have the referrals resumed. The case remained pending at press time.
Bethany’s antibias policy, which the city released July 6, states in part: “It is the policy of Bethany Christian Services of the Greater Delaware Valley that no employee or volunteer will discriminate against any client or potential client (including, but not limited to, potential foster parent, foster parent, children, youth or families) in the provision of services in a manner that violates any applicable local, state, or federal law governing non-discrimination.”
In a statement, a city spokesperson said of Bethany’s new policy: “The actions of BCS demonstrate a strong commitment to an inclusive approach to their foster-care services and we are confident that commitment will continue.”
Justin F. Robinette, a local civil-rights attorney, said the policy isn’t specific enough to hold the agency accountable in the event Bethany turns away another same-sex couple.
“The local Bethany subsidiary is saying something without saying anything at all, really,” said Robinette. “The policy statement that Bethany won’t violate the law is meaningless. And I think Bethany knows this. If an LGBT antibias complaint were to be filed against Bethany, the agency could cite multiple laws protecting religious freedom. Even the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance contains an exemption for religious organizations.”
Robinette also expressed concern that Bethany’s parent company, Bethany Christian Services, “pledges on its website not to discriminate on the basis of sex. Yet that didn’t stop the local Bethany subsidiary from turning away a lesbian couple, which is a form of sex discrimination.”
Bethany’s antibias policy needs specific language indicating that the policy extends to sexual orientation and gender identity, Robinette said. “Employers, housing centers and public accommodations routinely display antibias policies specifying the categories that are protected. Why can’t Bethany?”
Margaret A. Downey, president of the Freethought Society, also blasted Bethany’s new policy.
“Wouldn’t it be more progressive, kind and helpful if Bethany simply stated that they would no longer discriminate against nontheist applicants?” Downey asked in a July 9 email.
She added that Bethany’s antibias policy should specify that the agency won’t discriminate against the nontheist community by including the category “religion,” and making clear that the category covers nontheists.
In a related matter, PGN filed a Right-to-Know Law request with the city July 5 for the exact amount of city funds provided to Bethany for foster-care services during the fiscal year ending June 30. As of presstime, the request remained pending.