Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Supreme Court of the United States, 17 June 2021
The US Supreme Court ruled on 17 June 2021 in the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The dispute concerned the placement of children with foster families and the related function of selecting and certifying the suitability of the families that would take in the child.
In the United States, this activity is entrusted to private agencies that support the management of public bodies.
One of these agencies is Catholic Social Services, a body that depends directly on the diocese of Philadelphia and carries out the service in question.
Same-sex and unmarried couples complained that Catholic Social Services did not certify them as foster families. To avoid such discrimination, the city of Philadelphia had included in its contractual clauses a prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. As a result of the organization's failure to comply with these clauses, the city authorities had severed all relations with the custody of the children.
Believing it had suffered damage, Catholic Social Services invoked the First Amendment of the US Constitution, the guardian of religious freedom.
Called upon to settle the dispute, the Supreme Court was in line with its own very recent case law on the subject. Arguing in favour of the Catholic agency, it held that the right to religious freedom prevailed among the various interests at stake. By obliging the agency to choose between limiting the scope of the mission pursued by the organization or accepting parental relationships that were contrary to its convictions, the administration had placed an excessive burden on the exercise of the organization's religious freedom.
In other words, by its conduct, the Philadelphia City Council unjustly infringed Catholic Social Services' exercise of religious freedom.