There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
— Galatians 3:28
On Thursday, the Supreme Court decided unanimously that religion supersedes the law, at least regarding LGBTQ+ rights. In Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the justices voted nine to zero to allow a Catholic adoption agency, Catholic Social Services (CSS), to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. The adoption agency sued after the city refused to refer cases to the agency due to its refusal to consider LGBTQ+ foster parents. The city argued that the agency’s willful violation of local nondiscrimination law meant the agency wasn’t qualified to get city business.
“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” the Court ruled. “Under the circumstances here, the City does not have a compelling interest in refusing to contract with CSS. CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.”
The decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, was signed by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch didn’t sign the majority decision, and three concurring opinions were filed. In essence, the decision creates an exemption for existing protections for LGBTQ+ people. Combined with the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commissiondecision of 2018, which sided with a baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, the conservative justices have made it clear that the rights of LGBTQ+ people are subject to exemptions.
The decision should hardly be a surprise. For one thing, the Court is packed with a particular kind of Catholic. Six of the justices are Catholic—Roberts, Barrett, Kavanaugh, Alito, Thomas, and Sotomayor. The first five are conservative Catholics; only Sotomayor represents the views of the majority of Catholics, who tend to be Democrats. While we have some racial diversity on the Supreme Court, there is little religious diversity. Breyer and Kagan are Jewish. Gorsuch is the first member of a mainline Protestant denomination to sit on the Supreme Court since the retirement of John Paul Stevens in 2010; he was raised Catholic, but married an Anglican and now attends an Episcopal Church. After marrying in a non-Catholic ceremony and joining an Episcopal church, Gorsuch has not publicly stated if he considers himself a Catholic who is also a Protestant or simply a Protestant.
I cannot fathom how claiming to be a religious organization or claiming to be religious allows you to break/ignore laws against harming others. How many children have been in foster homes or orphanages over the years who have suffered abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to be protecting them? How many of those were under the tutelage of a religious organization? Let’s face it, the Catholic Church does not have a great track record with children. The child sex abuse scandals of the Catholic Church have plagued them for decades (they’ve plagued the church for centuries, but only in recent decades has the problem been made public). Just one of many examples of this is in my own backyard as former residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage have recounted horrific abuse at the hands of “religious” individuals.
The tension between religious freedom and civil rights stretches far back in American history. In battles over slavery and racial segregation, proponents of discrimination and opponents of progress have often cited religion and scripture to justify maintaining inequality. Until the civil rights era, refusals to serve African Americans were often cloaked under the guise of religious freedom. As social norms changed, the religious justifications for this bigotry became legally untenable. Religious freedom has been weaponized so frequently in civil liberties debates because of the cultural and constitutional weight it carries. Such appeals have the potential to reshape cultural and religious worlds: to make a group’s political convictions and cultural practices appear more “religious,” or more central to their religion than they otherwise might have been. For this reason, the scope and meaning of religious freedom have been constantly contested throughout American, which is why religious freedom must always be balanced against other American ideals, lest we allow it to trample on other deeply held values.
In the 1982 case Bob Jones University v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom did not give Bob Jones the right to claim tax-exempt status while practicing racial discrimination. So why are these organizations allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ Americans and retain their tax-exempt status? The constitutional right to religious freedom protects the sanctity of personal belief; however, that freedom ends when the exercise of one’s faith harms the rights or well-being of another. Religious freedom and nondiscrimination protections are complementary values rooted in the fundamental principle that every person should be treated equally under the law. Taxpayer dollars should never pay for programs that exclude or discriminate against participants.
Galatians 3:28 tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Churches have ignored this passage throughout history, much like they ignore many verses of the Bible that are inconvenient for them. When will LGBTQ+ Americans be given the same rights as all other Americans? Religion should be a tool to lift people, not knock them down. It should never be used as a weapon of hate, fear, or discrimination.
I am all for the First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Speech, press, and assembly all have limits, so why does religion also not have limits. When the government starts allowing religious organizations to dictate how our laws are implemented or what laws should be enacted, then this is an “establishment of religion.” If religious organizations are going to provide a charitable service, they should not be allowed to discriminate against anyone. Religious organizations can no longer discriminate based on race, so why should they be able to discriminate based on sexuality?
In the decisions of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court has done the opposite of what they claim they are doing. They have forced others to bow to the religious dictates of another person’s beliefs. They have essentially established a religion by claiming that religions are exempt from following the law. They infringe on Americans’ rights to practice a belief that is in disagreement with a more powerful entity (By that, I mean large, wealthy religious organizations, not God). The Bible tells us that we “are all one in Christ Jesus.” If we are all one, why is CSS allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people? They are not following their own religious beliefs, but they are following the prejudices of man.
Shame on the Supreme Court for forcing the City of Philadelphia to follow the beliefs of CSS when they are contrary to what God commands CSS to do. Besides, why should Philadelphia be forced to send adoption cases through CSS when they have a track record like St. Joseph’s in Burlington, Vermont, or any number of Catholic organizations. And this goes far beyond the Catholic Church. It is part of all organized religions. Why should we protect a church’s religious freedoms when they disrespect and disregard the religious liberties of others? We should be protecting individuals’ right to practice religion not organizations. And no one, not even under the guise of religious freedom, should a person or organization be able to hide behind religious freedoms and the First Amendment to discriminate legally.