Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, PA: “Let Me Have My Cake and Eat it Too”

Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, PA is another case in which a religious group, in this case Catholic Social Services, seeks to receive money from the government for foster care services but also seeks to ignore laws that prohibit discrimination i.e. let me have my cake and eat it too – let me get the money but not follow the rules. The case will be argued at the Supreme Court in November and Freedom from Religion Foundation, Center for Inquiry and the American Humanist Association have filed an amicus brief.   

Fulton is yet another attempt to enshrine religious doctrine over laws established by the people (through legislatures).  For over 100 years, courts have held that neutral laws that do not target religious groups must be followed by religious people just like everyone else.  That is what the Rule of Law means. That is what “no one is above the law” means. To allow a carve out for one person’s belief means we have no law left.

A man who murdered his wife and her partner in Glendale said it was required under his religious belief.  Should he be excused?  Will we make polygamy legal again?  What about child marriage? How about a “church of the opioids” where taking them was a part of the ritual?  Or a “church of spare the rod and spoil the child” where children were regularly beaten?  And no mosque should have to pay the interest on a loan because it’s against their faith. These examples are not imaginary. Children have been ritually beaten in religious services. Members of some ultra-orthodox Jewish communities have been harassed to prevent them reporting sexual abuse to the police. Harassment of people leaving the Church of Scientology is legion.

The darling of the religious right, Justice Scalia highlighted this very principle:  “Laws,” we said, “are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. . . . Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief ? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” 494 U.S. at 879 (quoting Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878)).

But that is exactly what the religious nationalists are seeking to do – make the doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land. Religious groups, led by Scottsdale’s own Alliance Defending Freedom, has mounted a concerted attack on religious neutrality and the Rule of Law to seek favoritism for religious doctrine. They want government money but they don’t want to obey government rules. Such groups have sued because they didn’t get FEMA money, because they didn’t get tourism money (to the fake ark), and even because they didn’t get a contract to teach art!  But they have received handouts of COVID money while they often remain as its biggest spreaders. Those who cried the loudest about LGBT people seeking “special rights” when all they seek is equality are the same ones now seeking “special rights” for religious organizations to avoid the law.

The religious nationalist arguments focus on people who were fired for adhering to their religious beliefs. There are “reasonable accommodations” for that, but what they were doing i.e. going to church rather than work or refusing to make weapons was not illegal. What the religious organizations are doing now, discriminating against LGBT, against women, or against those of a different religion, is illegal.   

Like the Maddonna case, a program that allegedly cares about foster children is seeking to prohibit a large number of citizens from helping these very children.  Twenty-six percent of Americans claim no religious affiliation which means they all would be prohibited under the rules of both agencies from helping a foster child.  Why?  Because the religious organization believes their doctrine is the best doctrine and all other doctrines should be prohibited. Sounds like the inquisition to me. 

“There was a time when religious law ruled the world. It was called the Dark Ages.” Ruth Hurmence Green

Unfortunately, we can no longer trust our courts to protect our rights.  So under our system of checks and balances, we have to turn to the executive and legislative branches. That is one reason this upcoming election means so much. We have to work for candidates, donate to them, and vote all up and down the ballot on November 3.