Published June 18, 2021
Many conservatives fear that woke progressivism’s march through America’s institutions will inevitably curtail religious liberty. Thursday’s unanimous Supreme Court decision in a case regarding Catholic Social Services shows that the court remains committed to the First Amendment — for now.
The case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, involved city contracts for foster care services. The city refused to contract with CSS unless it agreed to certify same-sex partners as foster parents. Since the Catholic Church views marriage as a sacrament between a man and a woman, CSS could not comply without abjuring its religious faith. It sued, arguing that the city’s policy violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s opinion agreed with CSS — but his ruling was limited in a crucial way. Writing for the court, he noted that the city’s requirement burdened CSS by forcing it to either deny its religious beliefs or withdraw from a 50-year commitment to providing foster care services. Under Supreme Court precedent, a government cannot place such a burden on anyone unless it is narrowly tailored and serves a compelling government interest.