BREAKING: Foster moms react to historic Supreme Court hearing High Court looks poised to protect Catholic foster mothers and 200-year-old Catholic foster agency
Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON – Two foster mothers, Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, asked the Supreme Court today to protect their freedom to partner with a Catholic ministry to care for foster children in need. During oral argument, the Justices appeared poised to protect the women and their ability to work with Catholic Social Services, which pioneered foster care in Philadelphia over 200 years ago.
“My faith has led me to become a foster mother to children that society had abused and discarded,” said foster mom and named plaintiff, Sharonell Fulton. “As a single woman of color, I’ve learned a thing or two about discrimination over the years—but I’ve never experienced the vindictive religious discrimination the City’s politicians have expressed toward my faith.”
“I’m grateful the Justices took our arguments seriously and seemed to understand that foster parents like me just want to provide loving homes for children,” said Toni Simms-Busch, also a foster mom and named plaintiff. “It does not help anyone for the City to shut down the best foster-care ministry in Philadelphia—particularly when we have loving homes ready for children in need.”
In Sharonell Fulton et. al. v. City of Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia told Catholic Social Services that it had to either change its religious practices or close down, preventing kids from being placed with loving foster families. Becket Senior Counsel Lori Windham argued on behalf of Sharonell, Toni, and Catholic Social Services, telling the Court that the First Amendment protects the right of religious organizations to serve those in need without giving up the religious beliefs that motivate their ministry.
“Religious organizations should be free to serve the public, regardless of their beliefs. The public square is big enough to accommodate everyone who wishes to do good – and that should be especially true when it comes to taking care of children in need,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket and arguing attorney in Fulton.
During oral argument, a majority of the Justices appeared inclined to protect the religious foster parents and Catholic Social Services:
- Justice Kavanaugh called the City’s position “absolutist and extreme,” noting that Philadelphia “created this clash,” even though “no same-sex couple has ever come to Catholic Social Services for participation in this program.”
- Justice Breyer said what is “bothering me a lot” about the case is that “that no family has ever been turned down by this agency—indeed has never applied,” but the City still tried to shut them down.
- Justice Kagan pressed the City on the Free Exercise Clause, saying “I read Smith and Lukumi that you can’t get out of it so easily—that as long as there is an exemption, as long as it exists, as long as you could rely on it in the future, that there is not neutrality here.”
- Justice Gorsuch expressed concern that the City could “effectively take over a service that had been provided privately for some time, and take it over so much so that it regulates it pervasively and this [Free Exercise] analysis shouldn’t apply at all.”
- Justice Alito said, “If we are honest about what’s really going on here, it’s not about ensuring that same-sex couples in Philadelphia have the opportunity to be foster parents. It’s the fact the City can’t stand the message that Catholic Social Services and the Archdiocese are sending by continuing to adhere to the old-fashioned view about marriage.”
- As the federal government’s attorney, Hashim Mooppan put it, “What the City has done is worse than cutting off its nose to spite its face. What it is doing is cutting off homes from the most vulnerable children in the city to spite the Catholic Church.”
A decision from the Court is expected by the end of June.
Becket will hold a press call today at 12:30 PM EST
featuring Foster mom Toni Simms-Busch and Becket Fund senior counsel Lori Windham who will deliver remarks and answer questions about the case, respectively.