Victory for Religious Liberty: Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

On June 17, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia that the city of Philadelphia discriminated against Catholic Social Services (CSS), a Catholic foster-care agency, when they cut CSS from their foster provider list because of their religious convictions on human sexuality, marriage, and the nuclear family. In the 9-0 decision, the Court decided that Philadelphia violated CSS’s constitutional rights to Free Exercise by requiring that it certify couples who are living outside the Church’s teaching, including same-sex couples and unmarried couples, to foster children from their agency.

In addition to upholding CSS’s right to freedom of expression, the Fulton decision promotes the best interest of the children of Philadelphia, who now will have more options for a loving home.

As Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion:

“Maximizing the number of foster families and minimizing liability are important goals, but the City fails to show that granting CSS an exception will put those goals at risk. If anything, including CSS in the program seems likely to increase, not reduce, the number of available foster parents.”

In 2018, Philadelphia removed CSS from its program just days after putting out an urgent call for 300 more foster parents. That came a year after Catholic Social Services placed 226 children in foster homes. The city hurt prospects for hundreds of children to be placed in loving homes because it disagreed with the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage. This is not placing kids first.

The Fulton decision is particularly remarkable because of its unanimity and is an important victory for religious freedom! However, there is still work to be done, as it does not overturn the 1990 decision in Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith. Smith ruled that laws which are neutral and generally applicable do not violate the Free Exercise Clause even if they burden religious liberty. Smith’s difficult legal standard for religious liberty claims is ultimately what prompted Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993. Because of the narrow scope of today’s ruling, the city of Philadelphia may be able to simply re-write its law and still exclude CSS from offering fostering services unless they adopt government-mandated beliefs, likely resulting in additional litigation.

The forthcoming legal battle is what Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, who did not join the majority opinion, argue is impending. In their concurring opinions, the three Justices argued that Fulton is a missed opportunity to examine how the First Amendment applies to religious liberty cases.

As Justice Gorsuch wrote in his concurring opinion:

“[T]he majority seems determined to declare there is no “need” or “reason” to revisit Smith today… But tell that to CSS. Its litigation has already lasted years—and today’s (ir)resolution promises more of the same… The City has made clear that it will never tolerate CSS carrying out its foster-care mission in accordance with its sincerely held religious beliefs. To the City, it makes no difference that CSS has not denied service to a single same-sex couple; that dozens of other foster agencies stand willing to serve same-sex couples; or that CSS is committed to help any inquiring same-sex couples find those other agencies. The City has expressed its determination to put CSS to a choice: Give up your sincerely held religious beliefs or give up serving foster children and families. If CSS is unwilling to provide foster-care services to same-sex couples, the City prefers that CSS provide no foster-care services at all. This litigation thus promises to slog on for years to come, consuming time and resources in court that could be better spent serving children.”

And religious liberty legal battles are indeed on their way back up to the High Court. For instance, just days before the Fulton decision, a Colorado trial court also ruled on a religious liberty case, Scardina v. Masterpiece Cakeshop. In Scardina, the court decided that Jack Phillips, the Masterpiece Cakeshop baker who won a limited religious liberty victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018, violated the state of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law by politely refusing to bake a gender transition cake that is contrary to his well-founded convictions on human sexuality.

All Americans have the freedom to live according to their religious beliefs, as the First Amendment states. Adoption and foster care providers are no different. But the Colorado legislature, courts, and governor are on a different path.

Just this April, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed into law House Bill 21-1072 “Equal Access Services for Out-of-Home Placements,” which will prohibit foster and adoption service providers that receive state funding from having certification policies that align with their religious beliefs. Just as with the city of Philadelphia, the new Colorado law does not contain an exemption for religious organizations, and therefore could be vulnerable to litigation on similar grounds.

America is a pluralistic society, and no government entity should punish those with well-founded convictions on marriage and human sexuality. In the case of Fulton, this is especially true when punishment necessarily means more children with no home at all. Thanks to Fulton, the constitutional right to freedom of expression was upheld for Catholic Social Services and hundreds of children have more opportunity to be placed in loving homes.

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Most Reverend Stephen J. Berg

Bishop of the Diocese of Pueblo

Most Reverend Stephen Berg is a native of Miles City, Montana. He is the son of Connie and Jeanne Berg and the oldest of 10 children. He attended Catholic schools in Miles City, graduating from Sacred Heart High School in 1969. He earned a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1973 and a Master of Music from Eastern New Mexico University in Portales in 1975. Upon graduation, Bishop-designate Berg taught music at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth. Subsequently, he worked 14 years in the retail nursery industry as vice president or general manager for divisions of Sunbelt Nursery, Inc. in Fort Worth, Southern California, Phoenix and Atlanta.

Bishop-designate Berg entered Assumption Seminary in San Antonio in 1993 where he received a Master of Divinity degree from Oblate School of Theology in 1999. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1999 by his maternal uncle Bishop Joseph L. Charron, C.PP.S, S.T.D, now the Bishop Emeritus of Des Moines. After his ordination, Bishop-designate Berg served as parochial vicar of St. Michael Catholic Church in Bedford, Texas from 1999 to 2001. In 2001, he became parochial vicar of St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in North Richland Hills, Texas. From 2002 to 2008, he was pastor of four rural parishes: St. Mary in Henrietta, St. Jerome in Bowie, St. William in Montague and St. Joseph in Nocona. In 2008, Bishop Kevin Vann appointed him vicar general of the Diocese of Fort Worth and concurrently he served as pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church. In 2010, he became the Moderator of the Curia for the Diocese under Bishop Vann and also served as administrator of Holy Name of Jesus parish. Upon Bishop Vann’s installation as Bishop of Orange, then Monsignor Berg was elected diocesan administrator in December 2012 by the College of Consultors for the Diocese. Bishop Berg was ordained and installed as Bishop of Pueblo on February 27, 2014, by Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila at a Mass in Pueblo.

Most Reverend James R. Golka

Bishop of the Diocese of Colorado Springs

Bishop Golka is the fourth of ten children born September 22, 1966, to Robert and Patricia Golka. He was born and raised in Grand Island, NE. He graduated from Grand Island Central Catholic High School in 1985. He graduated from Creighton University in 1989 with degrees in Philosophy and Theology. He then spent one year as a Jesuit lay missionary volunteer at Red Cloud Indian School on the Native American Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

After applying as a seminarian for his home diocese of Grand Island, Bishop Golka enjoyed seminary formation at the St. Paul Seminary, School of Divinity, of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, where he received both a Masters of Divinity degree and a Masters of Arts degree in Sacramental Theology.

He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Grand Island on June 3, 1994. He has served as a Parochial Vicar and Pastor in various parishes. He has served the diocese in various capacities including Director of Ongoing Formation of Clergy, Chair of the Personnel Board, member of the Diocesan Finance Council, the Presbyteral Council, and as a member of the Diocesan College of Consultors. At the time of his election, he was serving as Rector of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Grand Island, NE. He was also serving as the Vicar General for the Diocese of Grand Island.

Bishop Golka says that he greatly enjoys the pastoral ministry which is provided in a parish setting. Working with people at all stages of life and allowing the gift of our Catholic faith to provide direction, support and new life is greatly rewarding. He also enjoys helping to provide ongoing formation events for the clergy of the diocese to care for the wellbeing of his brother priests.

Bishop Golka has worked with national consultants to better help parishes develop stewardship as a way of life. He has offered numerous retreats across the country preaching the blessings of ordering our lives in recognition that all we are and all we have is a gift from God. A guiding scripture passage is Psalm 116:12 which proclaims: “How can I repay the LORD for all the great good done for me?”

Bishop Golka was Ordained a Bishop in Colorado Springs on June 29, 2021. The Diocese of Colorado Springs has approximately 183,150 Catholics in 39 parishes and missions. The diocese has 82 priests, 85 Deacons and 15 men in seminary formation. The diocese and its parishes provide religious education and formation to more than 9,000 students. There is one private Catholic high school in the diocese that currently serves approximately 254 students, while an additional 1,325 students receive instruction through five parish-based elementary schools. In total, there are more than 5,414 Catholic youths under religious instruction in the Diocese of Colorado Springs.

Bishop Golka looks forward to continued growth and expansion in the diocese. With God’s grace and with the support of the faithful, the Diocese of Colorado Springs will know many more years of serving the mission of the Church in Colorado.

Most Reverend Bishop Jorge H. Rodríguez

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver

Bishop Rodriguez was born March 22, 1955, in Merida, Mexico, located in the state of Yucatan. He is the son of Nery Maria Novelo and Ramon Rodriguez (deceased), and he has one brother and four sisters, who live in Merida. In Merida he attended a primary school run by the Maryknoll Sisters, and then secondary and preparatory schools run by the Marist Brothers. When he finished high school, he joined the Legionaries of Christ to study and become a priest. He was ordained Dec. 24, 1987.

He was awarded a Doctorate in Sacred Theology by the Gregorian in Rome in 1994. He also has a licentiate in philosophy from the same pontifical university, and a diploma in Mariology from the Marianum in Rome.

He was the dean of the Theology Department of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome (1994-1997). He has taught theology at the Pontifical Lateran University, at the Pontifical Institute Regina Mundi and at the Institute for Religious Sciences at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

In 1999, he was invited by then Archbishop Charles Chaput to teach in the newly launched St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, and to serve as Associate Pastor of St. Therese Parish in Aurora.

In 2002, he returned to Rome to serve as Associate Pastor of Stella Maris Parish in the Diocese of Rome, but then returned to Denver in 2006 to be a professor at St. John Vianney.

From 2007-2014, Father Rodriguez served as vice-rector of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. He was incardinated as a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver in 2008.

Since 2014, he has served as pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Thornton, Colorado, and he continues to teach the seminarians as well as the permanent diaconate candidates.

Pope Francis appointed Father Rodriguez as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver on August 25, 2016 and was ordained on November 4, 2016 on the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, the patron saint of bishops. He is also currently the pastor at St. Joseph parish in Denver.

He speaks Spanish, English and Italian, and reads French, and is the author of various theological publications.

Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila

Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Denver

Samuel J. Aquila was born on September 24, 1950, in Burbank, California.  He was ordained to the priesthood in Denver, Colorado, on June 5, 1976, and served in parish ministry for 11 years.  In 1987, he began graduate studies at San Anselmo University in Rome, earning a Licentiate in Sacramental Theology in 1990.

He served as Director for the Office of Liturgy and Master of Ceremonies in the Archdiocese of Denver from 1990 until 1995.  He served the archdiocese as Co-director for Continuing Education for Priests, as an advisor to the Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy, and as Assistant Secretary for Catholic Education before being named Secretary for Catholic Education, a position he held from 1995 until 1999.

From 1999-2001, he served as the first Rector of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver and Chief Executive Officer of Our Lady of the New Advent Theological Institute.  In 2000, he was named a Prelate of Honor by Pope John Paul II, receiving the honorary title of Monsignor.

He was appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Fargo on June 12, 2001, and his Episcopal Ordination Mass was celebrated at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo on August 24, 2001.  On March 18, 2002, he became Bishop of Fargo, and from 2005 to 2006 he also acted as Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Sioux Falls. On July 18, 2012 he was installed as the Archbishop of Denver, returning to lead the Archdiocese where he had originally served as a priest for 25 years.

Archbishop Aquila serves on numerous boards and committees, including the Papal Foundation, the Bishops’ Advisory Council for the Institute for Priestly Formation and the Board of Trustees for the Augustine Institute.  He is a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in which he has served as a member of various committees. Archbishop Aquila’s episcopal motto comes from the Blessed Virgin Mary’s instructions at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you (Jn 2:5).”