Faith-Based Adoption Agency to Plead Its ‘Free Exercise’ Case to the Supreme Court

March 22, 2020 Updated: March 22, 2020


In June 2018, a mother known as “Doe Foster Mother #1,” and who had fostered 14 children in 18 years, wrote the following in a signed affidavit:

That she had been certified to receive placements through Catholic Social Services (CSS), a reputable adoption agency. That some of the children she fostered were diagnosed with autism. That the city of Philadelphia refused to place one such child, diagnosed with autism, with her again because she worked exclusively with CSS and the city deemed that agency’s beliefs violated the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

Thus, the child, “Doe Foster Child #1,” who could barely speak in full sentences—such was the severity of his autism—languished in a temporary home. Without the foster mother guiding him, the boy struggled to eat. He failed to receive the therapy he needed. His school marked him absent.

Not because a loving mother who had decided to adopt him was unavailable, but because Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services would rather sever ties with a faith-based adoption agency, accusing them of discrimination for maintaining deeply held religious beliefs about marriage, than continue to facilitate adoption for a child with autism and for whom a loving, stable home is a balm for an erratic mind and heart.

Though the city eventually relented and allowed for the foster child and mother to be reunited, they did not offer to renew CSS’s contract with the city, making it another tale of woe of faith-based business owners and organizations on the receiving end of government animus.

CSS and three foster mothers sued the City of Philadelphia in May 2018, asking for CSS’s suspended contract to be renewed as the city’s actions went against its religious-freedom rights. They lost their case twice, but now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case in the fall.

Other Cases

This isn’t the only case of state-sanctioned targeting of faith-based adoption services. There have been at least two other similar cases in New York and Michigan.

They all have one thing in common: All the adoption agencies have a faith-based foundation. All espouse traditional, centuries-old, Judeo-Christian views on marriage. All facilitate the adoptions of children, who often have significant emotional or physical needs. The state intervened in all these cases, accusing the adoption agency of discrimination while ignoring their own bigotry.

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services targeted New Hope Family Services for conducting faith-based adoptions in 2018. New York threatened to force New Hope to shut down its adoption program. New Hope responded, asking a court “to stop the state from targeting it for its religious beliefs and to preserve its ability to continue placing children in adoptive homes while the lawsuit moves forward,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom, the law firm representing New Hope.

In 2017, the ACLU sued the state of Michigan because they had partnered with agencies such as St. Vincent Catholic Charities and that agency does not endorse same-sex couples for adoption certification. Then, in early 2019, in an unprecedented political move, the new state attorney general made a settlement deal with the ACLU and got on board with their efforts to try to halt adoptions through only the faith-based agencies with which the state had partnered.

St. Vincent received taxpayer subsidies, which made the case all the more complex. But in April 2019, St. Vincent filed a lawsuit against the state regarding the settlement. In September 2019, a federal court ruled that “the State’s real goal is not to promote non-discriminatory child placements, but to stamp out St. Vincent’s religious belief and replace it with the State’s own.” St. Vincent is still functioning as a faith-based adoption agency today while the case continues to be heard.

Growing Hostility

The experience of Doe Foster Child #1 amplifies the blatant violation of CSS’s rights to function with deeply held religious beliefs about marriage, and makes this particular story a double-edged sword of bigotry: It’s not just the agency whose “business” facilitating adoptions was halted. “Mankind was my business,” as Charles Dickens wrote centuries ago. “The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business.”

In essence, children suffered because of Philadelphia’s attenuated, bigoted, agenda toward an organization rooted in faith.

It’s unfortunate to see states exercising such obvious hostility toward organizations operating from strong religious convictions. In fact, such instances seem to have increased since Supreme Court Justice Kennedy scolded the state of Colorado in his 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission opinion for not considering the case of the baker and the gay couple “with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires.”

That thousands, hundreds, or even just one autistic child would suffer the loss of family or a home as a result of this state-based anti-religious animus makes all these adoption agency cases—and particularly the one before the Supreme Court—that much more important to resolve.

Nicole Russell is a freelance writer and mother of four. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Politico, The Daily Beast, and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter @russell_nm.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.