Amicus briefs in foster-care dispute

Amicus briefs in foster-care dispute

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Forty-three Republican members of Congress and officials representing eight states have filed amicus briefs in support of a local Catholic agency’s legal quest to resume foster-child referrals from the city, despite that the agency won’t place children with same-sex couples.

In March, city officials stopped referring foster-care children to Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia after published reports disclosed CSS won’t place children with same-sex couples.

City officials contend CSS’ policy violates the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, which bans discrimination on the basis of LGBT status. Conversely, CSS claims the city is violating its religious-freedom and free-speech rights.

A spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney declined to comment about the amicus briefs. In prior court filings, city officials emphasized they’re not hostile to Catholicism. According to city records, in the past year the city paid about $26 million to CSS for a variety of services apart from foster-care services. About $4 million of those funds came from city tax dollars; the remaining funds came from state and federal grants.

Lori H. Windham, an attorney for CSS and three foster families, issued this statement: “Philadelphia’s actions have left foster parents and religious foster agencies nationwide wondering who’s next. We’re grateful for this outpouring of support by those who don’t want to see [CSS], or other successful foster care agencies, punished for following their faith.”

Ten Republican senators and 33 Republican representatives signed onto the Congressional brief, which was filed earlier this month in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The eight states that filed a similar amicus brief are Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

Oral arguments in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals are expected in the fall.

The congressional brief states that CSS may have to phase out its foster-care program within the next several months, thus harming children who need stable foster homes. CSS currently provides foster-care services for about 100 children in city custody.

“There is a long, unbroken, and nationwide history of faith-based providers caring for children in need as an exercise of, and in keeping with, their religious beliefs,” the brief states. “Government partnership with religious providers of social services is a longstanding and constitutionally permissible practice.”

The congressional brief requests a preliminary injunction that would require the city to resume referring foster children to CSS. The amicus brief filed by officials representing eight states also requests a preliminary injunction.

“The outcome of this litigation, and specifically whether government agencies may contract with private entities to provide foster-care services — even when those entities must abide by certain beliefs in placing children — may impact the ability of states to continue working with both religious and nonreligious child-welfare providers,” the brief contends.

The U.S. senators who signed onto the congressional brief are Mike Enzi (WY), Steve Daines (MT), Tim Scott (SC), James M. Inhofe (OK), John Boozman (AR), James Lankford (OK), Tom Cotton (AR), James E. Risch (ID) and Ted Cruz (TX).

The U.S. representatives who signed onto the congressional brief are Mike Kelly (PA), Doug Lamborn (CO), Billy Long (MO), Robert B. Aderholt (AL), Barry Loudermilk (GA),  Jim Banks (IN), Tom Marino (PA), Lou Barletta (PA), Mark Meadows (NC), Diane Black (TN), Ralph Norman (SC), Kevin Brady (TX),Pete Olson (TX), Kevin Cramer (ND), John Ratcliffe (TX), Jeff Duncan (SC),  Dana Rohrabacher (CA), Neal P. Dunn (FL), Todd Rokita (IN), Matt Gaetz (FL); Keith J. Rothfus (PA), Glenn Grothman (WI), Steve Russell (OK),Andy Harris (MD), Steve Scalise (LA),Jody B. Hice (GA), Adrian Smith (NE), Randy Hultgren (IL), Christopher Smith (NJ), Walter B. Jones (NC), Randy K. Weber (TX),  Steve King (IA) and Roger Williams (TX).

Justin F. Robinette, a local civil-rights attorney, blasted the amicus briefs as “partisan and unpersuasive.”

“The briefs are blatantly partisan in nature,” Robinette told PGN. “I can’t say that I’m surprised. Conservative Republicans usually don’t focus on LGBT rights. Instead, they emphasize the traditional way of doing things, even at the expense of the LGBT community.”

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