NWLC Files Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court in the Case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

Update: On June 17, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the City of Philadelphia, holding that its refusal to contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS) until it agreed to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violated the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. In a narrow decision limited to the specific facts at issue in this case, the Court focused on the language in the city’s contract and found that the contract’s mechanism for offering exemptions to agencies could not be denied to CSS. While the decision does have troubling implications for the direction the Court may be heading in, it importantly does not establish a general right for religious organizations to violate nondiscrimination laws. Read NWLC’s statement on the decision here. For further analysis of the Court’s decision, see the ACLU’s full statement here.


The National Women’s Law Center, along with our law firm partner Dentons and 35 additional civil rights and gender justice organizations filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the City of Philadelphia and intervenors Support Center for Child Advocates and Philadelphia Family Pride, represented by the ACLU, in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. In this case, Catholic Social Services claims it need not comply with Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination laws and is attempting to force the City to reinstate their taxpayer-funded foster care services contract.

For many years, Philadelphia has required agencies that contract with the City to provide services abide by their “Fair Practices Ordinance,” which prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, and other protected identities. After Catholic Social Services indicated that they would turn away same-sex families for foster care services, Philadelphia terminated their contract. In response, Catholic Social Services sued the City, claiming the termination of the contract was a violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses and is asking the Court to overrule the long-standing test under Employment Division v. Smith for evaluating neutral, generally applicable laws that incidentally burden religion.

In our brief, we explain the broader harms to women and girls that could flow from a ruling against the City of Philadelphia. Allowing entities with religious objections to use government funds to discriminate based on sex could threaten harm to women and girls in all areas of their lives, including access to education, in the workplace, obtaining healthcare, and in public spaces. A ruling for Catholic Social Services would invite countless challenges to otherwise neutral anti-discrimination laws and threatens a major setback in the decades-long fights against sex discrimination.

For more information on the case, see our blog here.