Although today’s opinion allows CSS to continue operating without compromising its faith, that likely won’t be the case for long. Soon, the Court will have to answer if a city can force a religious agency to violate its beliefs if no secular exceptions were provided.
Catholic Social Services’ (CSS) 9-0 victory before the Supreme Court today in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, while unanimous, can’t be allowed to overshadow serious differences among the justices on how to approach religious liberty.
This case involved CSS’s ability to operate in accordance with their Catholic faith. The City of Philadelphia had pressured CSS to either give up the Church’s teaching on marriage and family or give up their ministry of finding children loving homes. CSS refused to go against its strongly-held religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. After years of litigation, the Supreme Court today held that Philadelphia violated the First Amendment by allowing secular but not religious exceptions to their fostering contracts, like the one held by CSS.
To be clear, this decision was a win. For now, CSS will be able to operate in accordance with its religious beliefs and continue placing children in most need. The organization will not be forced to shut its doors because it refuses to compromise its faith.
Unfortunately, the win was narrow, coming up short of a huge victory. The Supreme Court did the bare minimum to protect CSS and other faith adherents. It was only because Philadelphia had other exceptions, but not religious ones, that the Court found the city in violation of the First Amendment. As Justice Alito noted in his concurrence, the secular exceptions were essentially boilerplate language in the city’s contract that they did not enforce and will be very easy for them to delete—effectively leaving CSS with no protection. As Justice Alito said, “[t]his decision might as well be written on the dissolving paper sold in magic shops.”