Supreme Court Weighs Balance Between Religious Freedom and LGBTQ Rights

By Douglas Lipsky

In November 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case involving the balance between sincere religious beliefs and laws protecting LGBTQ rights. While the court has ruled that federal laws protect LGBTQ individuals against employment discrimination, the line between religious freedom and discrimination remains blurred. 

It remains to be seen whether the justices will lend clarity to the issue. In the meantime, the best way to protect your employment rights is to consult with an experienced attorney.

The Backdrop

In Fulton v. City of Philadephia, the Supreme Court will decide whether a taxpayer-funded foster care agency can legally discriminate against same-sex couples based on its religious beliefs. 

Catholic Social Services (CSS), a foster-care agency associated with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, filed a lawsuit against the city after it stopped referring children in need of foster care to CSS. The lead plaintiff in the suit, Sharonell Fulton, has worked with CSS to foster 40 children over 26 years. 

In March 2018, the city blocked CSS from making any referrals on anti-discrimination grounds, after learning from a news article that the agency refused to place children with same-sex couples.  CSS filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the city’s actions violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

Two lower federal courts disagreed. In a unanimous ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that CSS failed to prove that “the city targeted the agency for its religious beliefs or is motivated by ill will against its religion, rather than sincere opposition to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

CSS appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that under the city’s policy, the agency would be forced to violate the sincerely held beliefs of the archdiocese. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Pennsylvania intervened in support of the city.

Why This Matters

The question before the Supreme Court is how to balance sincere religious beliefs against the government’s interest in protecting LGBTQ rights. The court’s ruling could have far-reaching implications beyond foster care and other government programs that use private companies to provide social services. 

Some observers argue that a religious exemption for foster care will discriminate against the LGBTQ community and other protected classes while paving the way for discrimination in other government programs in the future. 

Lipsky Lowe proudly stands with the LBTQ+ community and will fight for them whenever and wherever needed. 

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.