Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case we’ve been watching closely, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The ruling allows governments to continue to enforce nondiscrimination laws so long as they do so consistently and neutrally. Although a single foster care agency has been granted a license to discriminate and turn away same-sex couples, the ruling does not create a broad new license to discriminate for other agencies.
Fulton v. City of Philadelphia centers on a religiously affiliated child welfare agency that sued the City of Philadelphia to receive taxpayer dollars for its child welfare services, despite the agency’s refusal to comply with the City’s nondiscrimination requirement. In today’s decision, the Court ruled that Philadelphia’s system of individualized exemptions for different agencies meant its policy was not applied neutrally to all foster care agencies, and therefore it must grant an exemption to the agency in question. The decision is narrow and still allows governments to have and enforce nondiscrimination laws, and it does not allow other agencies to discriminate.
We have laws governing child services agencies for a reason: to ensure the safety and wellbeing of more than 400,000 children in the child welfare system. The more than 1,200 agencies providing these government services on behalf of children with taxpayer dollars should be expected to follow those laws. Today’s decision is an important reminder that the primary responsibility of child services agencies should be to help ensure that kids can be in loving homes where they can thrive.
To be sure, freedom of religion is important; it’s one of our nation’s fundamental values. That’s why it’s already protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. But that freedom doesn’t give any of us the right to impose our beliefs on others, or to discriminate. In fact most people of faith, and well as people across the political spectrum, support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
However, LGBTQ people in the United States still face discrimination in countless ways. It’s shocking that 29 states still do not have laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ people from being evicted from their home, kicked out of a business that’s open to the public, denied health care, or denied government services.
It’s time for our nation’s laws to reflect our values and protect all Americans from such unfair treatment. That’s why Congress should pass nationwide nondiscrimination protections like those in the Equality Act. Not only does the Equality Act protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, but it also expands important protections for women, people of color, and people of minority faiths. Because nobody should have to live in fear of discrimination simply because of who they are.