Court rules Catholic Social Services must abide by non-discrimination law

Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
Photo credit William Thomas Cain/Getty Images
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Philadelphia is within its right to require contractors — including Catholic Social Services, or CSS, an arm of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia — to abide by its non-discrimination policies. 

The ruling upholds the city's decision to stop placing children in foster care through CSS, after learning that CSS would not certify same-sex couples as foster parents. 

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia filed a lawsuit in May 2018 in response to the city's decision, claiming the city's action violated religious freedom protections.

The court ultimately agreed with the city, noting CSS' stance violates the city's non-discrimination ordinance and it is not a violation of religious liberty, as CSS argued in its request for an injunction.

In a 50-page opinion, the three-judge panel rejected the contention that the city acted out of hostility toward Catholicism or tried to force CSS to act against its religious beliefs. It also holds that the city has an legitimate interest in making sure its services are open to all Philadelphians.

In an emailed statement, Mayor Jim Kenney said he's grateful to the court for its analysis and pleased it upheld both religious liberty and non-discrimination toward same-sex couples. 

Grateful for the Court’s careful analysis and thoughtful decision. Our policy ensures that same-sex couples do not face discrimination as they seek to offer loving homes to children. Thanks to our entire team, especially City Solicitor Marcel Pratt.

— Jim Kenney (@PhillyMayor) April 22, 2019

City Solicitor Marcel Pratt also praised the ruling, affirming the city's belief in religious liberty.

"Our anti-discrimination laws do not target anybody based on their religion," he added.

Nonetheless, Pratt said he wouldn't be surprised if CSS appeals to the Supreme Court. He believes the city would win there as well.

"We have a very strong opinion from the Third Circuit that backs us up legally and factually," he continued. 

Attorney Nick Reaves of the Becket law firm, which specializes in religious liberty cases and represented CSS, responded to the decision Tuesday.

"It's an unfortunate result," he said. "We think the court got it wrong on the law and we think this will hurt the families that CSS has been serving." He's unsure whether CSS would appeal.


This story has been updated with a response from the attorney representing CSS.