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U.S. Supreme Court hears case that may have significant impact on religious liberty

Although it was largely overshadowed by the election, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday in a case regarding a Catholic foster care agency that refuses to compromise its religious beliefs by placing children with same-sex couples. The court’s decision could have a significant impact on religious freedom and overturn a decision from 1990 if the justices decide to consider the broader issues presented by the case.

In Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Catholic Social Services and two foster parents asked the Supreme Court to revisit Employment Division v. Smith, which weakened the Free Exercise Clause. As a result of Smith, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which restored the free exercise protections as they were prior to 1990. However, the federal RFRA applies only to federal laws and does not protect violations of free exercise of religion by the states. Congress later passed Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act that applies to state and local zoning laws.

After Smith, several states passed similar Religious Freedom Restoration Acts patterned for the most part after the federal RFRA. The Free Exercise Clause should have never been weakened as it was in 1990 by the Court, according to Liberty Counsel. The Smith decision has also done considerable damage to the First Amendment. Many Supreme Court justices have criticized Smith and called for it to be overturned.

In March 2018, the city canceled its contracts with Catholic Social Services due to its religious beliefs about marriage. This happened not long after the city issued an urgent call for 300 families to provide foster care to help care for the flood of children coming into the system due to the opioid crisis. The city then prohibited Catholic Social Services from placing any more children with the families it had already certified, in order to investigate whether the agency had violated the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, a policy that prohibits “discrimination” on the basis of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.”

“This case presents the opportunity to fully restore the First Amendment and undo the damage done to it in 1990,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. “The confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett could not be timelier. The existence of every faith-based adoption and foster care ministry depends on this case. These ministries only exist to help children.”

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice