For Immediate Release
Roy Speckhardt, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-238-9088 (ext. 109)
(Washington, DC, June 17, 2021) – The American Humanist Association (AHA)’s leaders expressed disappointment in today’s 9-0 Supreme Court decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“While the Supreme Court avoided overturning precedent that is vital to maintaining church-state separation, we are nonetheless stuck with a ruling, albeit narrow, that gives the Church a special privilege to discriminate against same-sex couples,” said Monica Miller, AHA’s Legal Director and Senior Counsel. “This ruling is yet another example of the Supreme Court setting aside the Rule of Law to benefit religion to the detriment of society.”
The issue before the Court was whether requiring a faith-based organization that partners with a government entity to follow non-discrimination provisions violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Proponents of the religious right to discriminate wanted the Court to discard the test from Employment Division v. Smith (1990) but the Court declined to do so. Smith held that laws incidentally burdening religion are constitutional so long as they are both neutral and generally applicable.
The Court did not overrule the Smith test. But that is the only positive aspect of the ruling. The Court held that the City Commissioner’s ability to exempt organizations from the non-discrimination rule meant that the rule was not generally applicable in the first place. And thus, the Court applied strict scrutiny (the test for facially discriminatory laws) and held: “The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless it agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny, and violates the First Amendment.” The verdict comes amid rulings trending in favor of religion, largely brought by religious institutions.
In August 2020, the AHA joined an amicus brief arguing that the Smith rule must be upheld. The AHA is also a cosponsor of #DecisionDay, a coalition of over 60 organizations to raise awareness of the potential impact of the Fulton decision. A national #DecisionDay virtual rally and town hall will be held this afternoon.
“While we breathe a sigh of relief that this ruling wasn’t the sledgehammer to the freedom from religion that we feared, we are deeply concerned, not only about the short-term impacts on children looking for a loving home, but also the long-term implications for the LGBTQ+ community as well as others impacted by religious discrimination,” noted Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director of the AHA.
Miller concluded: “The tragic part about today’s ruling is that its outcome was baked. We all knew the Court would give the Church a free pass to discriminate. We were simply waiting to see what kind of damage it would do to yield this outcome.”
The American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.