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Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

Description:  The city of Philadelphia halted foster-care referrals to Catholic Social Services because CSS wanted to operate in accordance with its religious convictions concerning marriage. This shut down its ability to place new foster children with loving families in Philadelphia.


U.S. Supreme Court building, Washington, D.C.
Thursday, Jun 17, 2021

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia that the city can’t discriminate against a faith-based, foster-care agency. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys argued for that result in a friend-of-the-court brief they filed on behalf of faith-based adoption and foster-care providers New Hope Family Services and Catholic Charities West Michigan.

ADF attorneys also represent Washington floral artist Barronelle Stutzman and say that the high court should now take her case, Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington. The Fulton decision did not resolve the important legal questions presented in Stutzman’s petition currently before the Supreme Court, and ruling in her favor would provide much-needed guidance to lower courts in other cases involving discrimination against people of faith, such as Scardina v. Masterpiece Cakeshop, 303 Creative v. Elenis, and Woods v. Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission.

“Every child in need of a forever home deserves the chance to be adopted or cared for by a foster family,” said ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner. “That’s what it means to keep kids first. The Supreme Court’s decision today allows that to continue happening. The government can’t single out people of certain beliefs to punish, sideline, or discriminate against them. We’re grateful for today’s decision, which unanimously vindicates that principle. And so now is the perfect time for the high court to address a religious freedom question that has been pending for years in Arlene’s Flowers, the case of Washington floral artist Barronelle Stutzman. She has waited far too long for justice—now is her time.”

“As the Supreme Court wrote in its Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, which I argued on behalf of cake artist Jack Phillips, it is not ‘the role of the State or its officials to prescribe what shall be offensive,’” Waggoner explained. “Despite that, Jack has been sued twice more, Barronelle continues to live with the threat of losing her business and life savings, and numerous other individuals and businesses face unconstitutional government coercion and punishment, all because they won’t act contrary to their faith and conscience. The Supreme Court’s intervention is sorely needed to end this abuse of power.”

“As Philadelphia acknowledges, CSS [Catholic Social Services] has ‘long been a point of light in the City’s foster-care system…,’ Chief Justice John Roberts wrote on behalf of the court in Thursday’s decision. “CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else. The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless it agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny, and violates the First Amendment.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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ABOUT Kristen Waggoner

Kristen K. Waggoner serves as general counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom. In this role, Waggoner oversees the U.S. legal division, a team of 100 attorneys and staff who engage in litigation, public advocacy, and legislative support. ADF has represented the prevailing parties in multiple U.S. Supreme Court victories, including Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which she argued at the Supreme Court. She also served as counsel in the free speech victory the Supreme Court handed down in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. She is a Peer Review Rated AV® Preeminent™ attorney in Martindale-Hubbell, who clerked for Justice Richard B. Sanders of the Washington Supreme Court after law school and served in private practice in Seattle for nearly 20 years. Waggoner is admitted to practice in multiple states, the Supreme Court, and numerous federal district and appellate courts.