Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Director of the Law, Rights, and Religion Project
The Rights, Faith, & Democracy Collaborative is deeply disappointed that the US Supreme Court issued yet another decision this past week that allows discrimination in the name of religion. Once again, the Court has aggressively given a green light to those who weaponize religious freedom — a value we also hold dearly — to harm already vulnerable LGBTQ communities.
Before the Court was whether the city of Philadelphia could end its foster care services contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS) based on its refusal to allow LGBTQ couples the opportunity to open their homes and provide much-needed support to foster children. In an unexpected 9-0 decision, the Court held that Philadelphia violated CSS’ religious rights because it allowed exemptions from the city’s laws on non-religious grounds but not for religious reasons. Therefore, the Court held that Philadelphia’s stated intent to uphold equality was in fact religious discrimination against this particular foster care agency. This is despite the fact that CSS wanted to keep a taxpayer funded city contract, while also retaining the ability to circumvent Philadelphia’s LGBTQ civil rights protections and discriminate against LGBTQ married couples in the name of religion.
Religious freedom claims, even those which completely upend equality or public health, are now on a long and sustained winning streak in the Supreme Court. At stake and under attack are long fought for LGBTQ nondiscrimination and reproductive freedom protections that are at the core the Rights, Faith, & Democracy Collaborative’s work. The Supreme Court is making clear that LGBTQ and reproductive health protections and other civil rights laws will now be relegated to second-class status when they contradict conservative Christian views and beliefs.
At its core, this amounts to a radical reinterpretation of the separation of church and state – a fundamental principle of our Constitution. This continued complete deference to most any and all claims of violations of religious liberty signals approval to scores of bad actors who will twist this ruling into a “get out of jail free card” for bigotry in the name of faith and further emboldens the conservative Christian strategy of “death by a thousand cuts” to our society’s entire civil rights structure.
And this is why the RFDC’s work is so important. Our state-based grantees are the front line of defense in stopping bad policy where it starts – with conservative religious extremists abusing legislative and legal processes at the local and state level to cement their extreme views into law and policy. Through their advocacy and education efforts, RFDC partners and allies are building solidarity with the over 70% of Americans who reject the argument that religious freedom is a tool that can be weaponized to enable bigotry and discrimination, rather than advancing a more inclusive vision of democracy in the United States.
Our thoughts are with those who are ultimately most harmed by this decision – not the powerful religious-affiliated organizations with multi-million dollar city contracts and a lobbying and legal infrastructure that dwarfs those that we support, but with the children of Philadelphia, some of whom will continue to languish in the foster care system because their right to a permanent loving home with an LGBTQ family is denied. During a truly difficult time, we take solace in knowing that the grantee partners that RFDC supports remain valiantly committed to the fight to ensure that religious freedom and equality can reinforce, not undermine each other, in service of an inclusive, representative democracy.
Formed in 2016, the Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative (RFDC) is a donor collaborative that supports building solidarity among allied faith communities and the gender, queer, and racial justice movements to reclaim religious freedom as a progressive value. Simply put, RFDC marshals resources to challenge those who would weaponize religious liberty to deny citizens their basic rights, forging a more inclusive vision of religious freedom.