The city of Philadelphia is prioritizing “political grandstanding over the needs of children,” advertising an “urgent” need for foster care even as it cuts off offers of help from Catholic Social Services, charges a lawsuit.

Represented by the non-profit Becket, Sharonell Fulton and other foster parents are asking a Philadelphia court to overturn a new city policy that banishes them from the foster care system.

Philadelphia ended CSS participation in foster care programs “solely because the city disagrees with the agency’s religious beliefs,” according to Becket.

The legal team explained that in March the city issued an urgent call for 300 new foster parents to provide loving homes for some of the more than 6,000 children in Philadelphia foster care.

But at virtually the same time, city officials “abruptly barred Catholic Social Services, one of the city’s top-rated foster agencies, from placing children with foster families.”

Consequently, foster homes are empty while the city begs for help.

“What justice is there in taking stable, loving homes away from children? If the city cuts off Catholic Social Services from foster care, foster moms like me won’t have the help and support they need to care for special-needs kids,” Fulton said. “I have relied on Catholic Social Services for support for years, and the city is taking away this help and causing harm and heartache to countless families like mine.”

The termination of Catholic Social Services will become final in a vote expected within the next few weeks.

Fulton alone, Becket said, has served more than 40 children, including two in her care now.

But she relies on CSS guidance and its round-the-clock support.

“Catholic Social Services and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia have been serving children throughout Philadelphia for over a century. Their Catholic mission drives them to find loving homes for all children in their care, regardless of the child’s race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. Catholic Social Services currently serves over 100 children in foster homes. No family or individual has ever complained that the agency’s Catholic mission prevented them from fostering or adopting a child,” Becket said.

“For a city with so much history, the people in charge have a pretty short memory,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket. “For a century, Catholic Social Services has been serving children in Philadelphia. Those children are the ones hurt by the city’s actions.”

The complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania charges the city was guilty of deciding to “prioritize political grandstanding over the needs of children.”

“Unsurprisingly, the city’s actions are creating a severe human cost. Available foster homes are sitting empty,” the filing said. “On an average day, Catholic Social Services serves more than 120 children in foster care, and it supervises around 100 different foster homes. Through its combined programs, Catholic Social Services served more than 2,200 different at-risk children in Philadelphia last year.”

It continues: “The city is penalizing Catholic Social Services, in violation of its contract and state and federal law, because the agency has Catholic beliefs about same-sex marriage. … The city has decided to penalize the agency because the city disagrees with its religious beliefs.”

It points out that no same-sex couples have been denied the ability to become foster parents because of CSS, nor have any same-sex duos filed complaints.

And it appears to be personal.

“The city has targeted Catholic Social Services because of its religious beliefs. City officials have been open about their disagreement with Catholic teaching on marriage and their personal animosity toward the archdiocese,” the lawsuit states.

And the suit warns of “devastating” results if the city terminates its work with CSS, disrupting the children’s lives by abruptly removing them from foster homes to which they’ve been assigned.

The city is in violation of the Religious Freedom Protection Act, the Constitution, including its ban on “denominational preference,” and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection requirements, the lawsuit claims.

There are similar protections in the Pennsylvania Constitution, which the city is also violating, the filing charges.

The complaint seeks an injunction to halt the city’s discriminatory practices and damages.


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