Family Equality Council Welcomes Appellate Court Decision Rejecting License to Discriminate in Philadelphia Foster Care System

PHILADELPHIA, PA — Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit squarely rejected Catholic Social Service’s (CSS) request for a license to discriminate against prospective foster parents in Philadelphia. The court concluded that the City’s non-discrimination policy is a neutral, generally applied law and stated that “while religious belief is always protected, religiously motivated conduct enjoys no special protections or exemption from general, neutrally applied legal requirements.” The court went on to find that “placing vulnerable children with foster families is without question a vital public service …” and that “deterring discrimination in that effort is a paramount public interest.”

Responding to the ruling, Shelbi Day, senior policy counsel for Family Equality Council said: “Today the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit confirmed that the First Amendment does not exempt taxpayer-funded faith-based child welfare agencies from complying with important nondiscrimination protections. Family Equality Council congratulates the City of Philadelphia and the ACLU on this victory which improves the prospects of a forever home for vulnerable youth in the city’s foster care system.”

Last year, the City of Philadelphia refused to renew its contract with CSS to license foster parents because CSS was unwilling to license same-sex parents, in violation of the City’s nondiscrimination policy. CSS sought an injunction to require the City to reinstate its contract, claiming a First Amendment right to use religious criteria to turn away same-sex couples. The district court denied that request, and in upholding that decision today, the Third Circuit rejected CSS’s arguments that the First Amendment grants a taxpayer-funded agency an exemption from the City’s nondiscrimination requirements.

Last October, Family Equality Council joined by COLAGE, through pro-bono counsel Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, LLP, filed an amicus brief in the Third Circuit in support of the City of Philadelphia. Family Equality Council’s brief highlighted the harms of discriminatory policies like the one CSS sought to justify by elevating the voices of those directly affected by discriminatory policies, including LGBTQ adults who faced discrimination in their efforts to foster or adopt children and youth formerly in foster care who simply wanted a safe and loving home but faced placements in group homes and with families not well-matched to their needs, as well as the perspectives of those who have been able to foster or adopt when nondiscrimination protections and affirming practices are in place.

Family Equality Council is proud to lead the national Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign, bringing together a broad coalition of organizations from across the political spectrum, including child welfare organizations, child welfare professionals, advocacy and civil rights organizations, and current and former foster youth with lived experience in the child welfare system. Campaign members are united in the belief that no otherwise qualified foster or adoptive parent should be turned away due to their marital status, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

About Family Equality Council

Family Equality Council advances legal and lived equality for LGBTQ families, and for those who wish to form them, through building community, changing hearts and minds, and driving policy change. Family Equality Council believes every LGBTQ person should have the right and opportunity to form and sustain a loving family, regardless of who they are or where they live. Learn more at

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Media Contact:

Ed Harris, Chief Communications Officer, Family Equality Council
646-880-3005 x117  /