Washington, D.C. — One day after the 2020 presidential election, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Fulton v. Philadelphia, a case that could give religious agencies that receive taxpayer dollars a broad license to discriminate.
The case challenges Philadelphia’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which prohibits any entity that contracts with the city from denying service on the basis of sexual orientation, among other characteristics. One of the plaintiffs in the case is Catholic Social Services (CSS), which sued the city after its contract was revoked for refusing to allow same-sex couples to be foster parents, arguing that it has a constitutional right to do business with the city even when it refuses to comply with the city’s nondiscrimination rules.
If the Supreme Court sides with CSS, it could grant religiously affiliated foster agencies across the country a constitutional right to taxpayer dollars even if they flaunt existing anti-discrimination laws. LGBTQ individuals would hardly be the only demographic to be negatively affected by such a ruling; unmarried couples, religious minorities, and couples where one spouse was previously divorced could all find themselves out in the cold as well.
The implications of a negative decision extend well beyond the foster care system, which currently houses an estimated 443,000 children. A new column from the Center for American Progress outlines how the Supreme Court could pave the way for any taxpayer-funded agency to discriminate against any protected class of people under the guise of religious objection. This could include homeless shelters, hospitals, food banks, and disaster relief agencies, among numerous other entities. Freedom of religion is an important value protected by the Constitution, but these protections do not allow discrimination.
Recent data from a nationally representative survey conducted jointly by CAP and NORC at the University of Chicago show that LGBTQ Americans avoid needed services to avoid discrimination and, should they be denied access to taxpayer-funded services, many would be unable to access services at alternative locations. Two in 5 LGBTQ adults said that it would be difficult or impossible to find an alternative adoption agency if turned away, with a similar number reporting that it would be difficult or impossible to access an alternative homeless shelter.
“Our survey findings reveal the existing challenges that LGBTQ people face when accessing basic public services in civil society,” said Caroline Medina, policy analyst for the LGBTQ Research and Communications Project at CAP and co-author of the column. “To misuse religious liberty as a license to discriminate would set a harmful precedent and inflict critical damage on the rights of LGBTQ individuals and religious minorities, exacerbating discriminatory barriers they already encounter in their everyday lives. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito recently attacked marriage equality under the guise of religious liberty. This case demonstrates the urgent risks to the basic rights of LGBTQ people if their extreme views are adopted as the stance of the court’s majority.”
Read the column: “Supreme Court Case Could Give Taxpayer-Funded Service Providers a Broad License To Discriminate Against LGBTQ People” by Lindsay Mahowald and Caroline Medina.
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