U.S. Supreme Court denies emergency relief for Catholic agency


The U.S. Supreme Court this week denied a request from Catholic Social Services for an emergency order to resume foster-child referrals from the city of Philadelphia. 

Officials refuse to refer additional foster children to CSS because the agency won’t place those children with same-sex couples in accordance with the city’s antidiscrimination laws. 

City officials stopped the referrals in March after published reports about CSS’ anti-LGBT policies. CSS also won’t place children in homes headed by unmarried opposite-sex couples. City officials maintain such discrimination violates the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance.

CSS claims the city is violating its religious-freedom and free-speech rights. While CSS’ legal challenge against the city remains pending at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the agency filed an emergency appeal for the resumption of city referrals with the U.S. Supreme Court on July 31.

On Aug. 30, the Supreme Court rejected CSS’ appeal without elaborating. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., and Neil Gorsuch dissented. The case now returns to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, where oral arguments are expected in the fall.

Deana Gamble, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney, said: “We are thankful for the court’s careful consideration and pleased with the order.”

In court papers, CSS argued that if it didn’t get emergency relief, it would have to phase out its foster-care program within the next several months. The agency currently provides foster-care services for about 100 children in city custody.

“These children need continuity and support, not additional disruptions. A temporary injunction [ordering additional referrals] costs the City nothing. But the lack of an injunction costs CSS, the foster families it serves, and the children they serve, everything,” states CSS’ appeal.

But city attorneys emphasized the city’s commitment to providing foster-care services in a bias-free manner, adding that city officials don’t harbor animus against Catholicism. According to city records, in the past year, the city of Philadelphia paid about $26 million to CSS for a variety of services apart from foster-care services. About $4 million of those funds derived from city tax dollars. The remaining funds came from state and federal grants. 

Justin F. Robinette, a local civil rights attorney, said he wasn’t surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. “It really was a Hail Mary pass on the part of CSS. Two lower courts denied the emergency request. And I seriously doubted that the Supreme Court would have granted it. However I am concerned that three justices dissented. Those justices were raised as Catholics and they’re also conservatives. So maybe that accounts for their dissent. Let’s hope that if this issue returns to the Supreme Court down the road, we get the same result.”

A spokesperson for CSS couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.