The U.S. Supreme Court won’t decide until Jan. 24 at the earliest whether it will hear the case of Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia, an agency that no longer receives foster-child referrals from the city because it won’t place those children with same-sex couples.
Since November, the Supreme Court has postponed deciding on whether it will hear the case on five separate occasions. The days it was scheduled to make a decision were Nov. 15, Dec. 6, Dec. 13, Jan. 10 and Jan. 17. A worker at the Supreme Court clerk’s office told PGN it’s possible the Jan. 24 date for a decision also will be postponed.
City officials halted foster-child referrals to CSS in March 2018, after published reports spotlighted CSS’ anti-LGBT policies. CSS also won’t place children in homes headed by unmarried opposite-sex couples. City officials maintain such discrimination violates the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance.
CSS claims the city is violating its religious-freedom and free-speech rights. But U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker rejected CSS’ claims in July 2018. “Philadelphia has a legitimate interest in ensuring that that the pool of foster parents and resource caregivers is as diverse and broad as the children in need of foster parents and resource caregivers,” Tucker wrote, in her decision.
In August 2018, CSS filed an emergency request with the high court, asking that it order the city to resume foster-child referrals to CSS. But the court denied that emergency request, without elaborating.
In November 2018, oral arguments on the dispute were held before a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. In April 2019, the panel upheld Tucker’s ruling.
The panel stated that CSS failed to demonstrate a violation of its constitutional rights by city officials. “The city stands on firm ground in requiring its contractors to abide by the city’s nondiscrimination policies when administering public services,” wrote the panel, consisting of Third Circuit judges Thomas L. Ambro, Marjorie O. Rendell and Anthony J. Scirica.
In July 2019, CSS petitioned the high court to hear the case — which is the petition that remained pending as of presstime.
In court papers, CSS said it will have to phase out its foster-care program, if it doesn’t receive additional foster-child referrals from the city. In April 2019, CSS was providing foster-care services for about 97 children in city custody. CSS currently serves 40 children through its foster-care program, according to city records.
Throughout the dispute, city officials emphasized their commitment to providing foster-care services in a bias-free manner. They also said they don’t harbor animus against Catholicism. According to city records, the city pays about $26 million annually to CSS for a variety of services apart from foster-care services. About $4 million of those funds come from city tax dollars. The remaining funds come from state and federal grants.