No Religious Right to Discriminate Against LGBT Foster and Adoptive Parents, Court Says

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on July 19, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a recent landmark case, a Philadelphia federal court decided that there is no religious right to discriminate against LGBT foster and adoptive parents. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker ruled that Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Social Services, two state-approved foster care placement services, do not have the right to take taxpayer funds and still override Philadelphia's Department of Human Services' (DHS) child placement standards because of religious objections to LGBT lifestyles.

Private Entities Doing Public Works

For over a century, states have been overwhelmed trying to place foster children in loving, safe homes. They have enlisted the help of many different private, and sometimes religious, licensed organizations to help, paying them to do so with taxpayer dollars.

In Philadelphia, child placement must be handled according to DHS's Welfare Placement Standards. In this case, the two religious organizations' placement criteria for what constitutes a good family does not include married same-sex couples. This flew in the face of the city's non-discrimination policy. The city stopped using these two placement services, and the companies sued that it had a constitutional right to determine best placement of the child.

Fulfilling Foster Children's Needs Requires All Families

In ruling that these religious-based services cannot override the DHS's Placement standards, the Court believed that Philadelphia had an interest in licensing all qualified parents. First, there are so many foster children looking for homes, the children interests would be best served by enlisting the help of as many good families as possible. Second, doing anything less would likely result in civil rights violations of those discriminated against.

Maybe We Can All Get Along

Religious conservatives have been using their First Amendment Right to Freedom of Religion as a sword, rather than a shield, in their fight against LGBT rights. Veiling discrimination under the guise of religion freedom is not a new tactic. However, it is one thing to use it to force the performance of gay marriages or baking for gay wedding receptions, and another to violate the best interest of thousands of children looking for a loving foster or forever home.

Evidently, the ruling had the desired effect. In order to resume working in Philadelphia, Bethany responded by changing its policies to allow staff to work with same-sex couples. In a statement, the organization deeply believes in their calling to "work with vulnerable children and families" and that it was important that "Christians remain in that space". To that end, Bethany Christian Services has agreed to find a way to be true to its values while honoring the City's requirements.

Perhaps this is the first of many compromises organizations are willing to make as America tackles civil rights issues in the coming century. Governments need private organizations, and vice versa, in order to evolve and thrive in today's global climate.

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