The U.S. Supreme Court has found that Philadelphia’s ordinance requiring a private foster care agency to certify same-sex couples as foster parents burdened the agency’s religious exercise in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Fulton et al. v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania et al., No. 19-123 (June 17, 2021).
Justice John Roberts, writing for the Court, found that Philadelphia unconstitutionally burdened the religious exercise of Catholic Social Services (CSS) — a private foster care agency in Philadelphia — by “forcing it to either curtail its mission or to certify same-sex couples as foster parents in violation of its religious beliefs.”
The Court’s decision primarily focused on whether Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance was both neutral and generally applicable and, therefore, constitutional, even if it incidentally burdened religion. For employers, however, the Court’s decision that CSS’s actions were not subject to the public accommodation provisions of Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance presents significant implications in cases alleging discrimination in places of public accommodation. The scope of this decision is limited in its application to the private sector.
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