Press Release

Empty foster homes, full courtroom for Philly foster families Court must decide if City can shut down religious foster agency, keeping foster children from loving homes

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Foster families were in the court today fighting the City of Philadelphia’s decision to discriminate against a religious foster care agency and prevent at-risk kids from being placed with a loving foster family. In Sharonell Fulton, et al. v. City of Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia barred one of the city’s top foster care agencies, Catholic Social Services, from placing children with dozens of certified foster families solely because of the agency’s religious beliefs about marriage. The hearing took place at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which must decide whether the city can continue to discriminate against Catholic Social Services and the children and families it serves (watch recap of arguments live on Twitter).

Catholic Social Services has worked with the city to place children with foster families for more than five decades and has provided this ministry to Philadelphians since the early 1900s, long before the city got involved. And to this day, neither the city nor the ACLU has pointed to anyone that has been prevented or even discouraged from fostering by Catholic Social Services. Yet earlier this year the city barred Catholic Social Services from placing children with foster parents like Sharonell Fulton–who has served as a loving foster mother for 25 years. 

“With every passing day, vulnerable kids wait for the chance to sleep in their own beds in a loving place they can call home,” said Sharonell Fulton, a single mother who has fostered over 40 children through the agency. “I worry for these kids, and the two children with special needs in my care, whose futures are threatened because of the city’s decision to discriminate.” 

There are 6,000 foster children in need of a family in the City of Philadelphia. The need to find those children homes is so dire that earlier this year the city put out an urgent call for 300 new families to join the foster care network. But shortly after this call for help, the city inexplicably prohibited Catholic Social Services from placing more children with families—solely because of the agency’s religious beliefs. There are currently dozens of families licensed to foster through Catholic Social Services who are willing to take in children, but because of the city’s actions, those homes remain empty. 

“The wait to find a foster family is long enough for a vulnerable child, yet the City of Philadelphia has decided to keep at-risk children out of loving homes,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, which represents Catholic Social Services and three foster families. “The court should put an end to the city’s religious discrimination and allow Catholic Social Services to continue doing what it does best: giving children loving families.” 

Becket is representing foster children, families, and Catholic Social Services in federal court. A decision can be expected by early next year. 

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Melinda Skea or 202-349-7224.Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. 


Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court.For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, includingBuddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians(read more here).