Foster Parents Sue City of Philadelphia for Suspending Partnership With Faith-Based Foster Agency

Photo Credit: Becket Law Firm

PHILADELPHIA — Several foster parents have filed a lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia for suspending its partnership with Catholic Social Services because the organization’s religious convictions prohibit it from placing children in same-sex households.

“[T]he City’s actions are creating a severe human cost,” the lawsuit states. “Available foster homes are sitting empty. Numerous foster parents like Cecelia Paul have homes that are now vacant because the City will no longer allow Catholic Social Services to place children with these loving families.”

“Other foster parents, such as Sharonell Fulton, may soon lose their placements, meaning that they will no longer be able to care for children who rely on their foster families to help with extensive medical care for their special needs,” it continues. “Other foster parents, such as Toni Simms-Busch, risk losing the opportunity to foster additional children, including biological siblings of her current foster children, in the future.”

“And many foster children will face even greater obstacles to finding a safe home. These consequences are severe, unnecessary, and illegal under state and federal law. And they are the direct consequences of the City’s actions.”

As previously reported, the Philadelphia Department of Human Services recently discontinued any new placements—pending an investigation—by Catholic Social Services and Bethany Christian Services in light of an article published by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The outlet had reported on two lesbians who were advised by a representative with Bethany Christian Services in October that the organization has never placed a child in a same-sex home. The representative offered the women referrals to others who might do so.

In reporting on the occurrence, the Philadelphia Inquirer decided to also reach out to Catholic Social Services to ask about its practices, and was informed that the entity likewise doesn’t place children with two men or two women. The organization has never been approached by anyone in a same-sex relationship, the representative noted.

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Both organizations were consequently placed under investigation and further placements of any kind were halted. Philadelphia City Council also passed a resolution to look into the Department of Human Services’ policy on working with agencies that decline to place children with homosexuals.

In the legal challenge filed on Wednesday, it was reiterated that Catholic Social Services has never been approached by a same-sex household and if it “were ever unable to perform in-depth home assessments and make reports and written certifications to the State for any reason, including consistency with religious beliefs and mission of Catholic Social Services, then it would refer the potential foster parent to one of 26 nearby agencies who can better serve their needs.”

However, the City’s law department sent the organization a letter earlier this month advising that Catholic Social Services is not allowed to refer out to another group.

“In that letter, the City confirmed that its purpose is to ensure that Catholic Social Services cannot ‘inform a qualified family’ that they are unable to complete a home study and refer that family elsewhere. The City made it clear that same-sex marriage is a ‘value that must be embodied in our contractual relationships,’” the complaint outlined.

And while the City may grant exemptions to certain rules, it outlined that in regard to the placement of children in same-sex homes, “the Commissioner has no intention of granting an exception.” It said that any further contracts will explicitly note that Catholic Social Services is required to conduct home studies of same-sex households.

“The City indicated it would not renew the contract after its expiration on June 30th, and would begin a transition plan, unless Catholic Social Services agreed to engage in the City’s preferred form of speech and provide home studies and support services to same-sex couples,” the lawsuit notes. “In that letter, the City also threatened to terminate the contract for convenience.”

Catholic Social Services and three foster parents who have been affected by the current suspension have consequently asked the courts to intervene.

The organization argues that it is being targeted for its beliefs about marriage, noting that “City officials have been open about their disagreement with Catholic teaching on marriage and their personal animosity toward the [Philadelphia] Archdiocese” and that “[l]ocal media has chronicled Mayor Kenney’s public statements criticizing the archdiocese and archbishop.”

It also notes that the City’s actions are causing foster families who work with Catholic Social Services to suffer, thus causing the children to suffer.

“Catholic Social Services works with parents like Ms. Paul, who, in her 40-plus years of foster work, has fostered more than 130 children, adopted six children, and received a Foster Parent of the Year award from the City,” the complaint notes.

“Mrs. Paul wants to foster more children, and she has worked with CSS for the past 46 years. Mrs. Paul also chose to work with Catholic Social Services so that she could raise her foster children consistent with her own religious values. By preventing Mrs. Paul from working with Catholic Social Services for her next foster child, Defendants are preventing Mrs. Paul from fostering children at all, infringing her liberty interests to have a family relationship protected by the Constitution,” it reads.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against any adverse action taken by the City, including a potential decision to not renew the foster services contract.

Read the legal challenge in full here.

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