Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: February 24, 2020
  • Case #: 19-123
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 922 F.3d 140 (3d Cir. 2019)

(1) Whether free exercise plaintiffs can only succeed by proving a particular type of discrimination claim or whether courts must consider other evidence that a law is not neutral and generally applicable? (2) Whether Employment Div. v. Smith should be revisited? (3) Whether a government violates the First Amendment by conditioning a religious agency’s ability to participate in the foster care system on taking actions and making statements that directly contradict the agency’s religious beliefs?

Petitioner is a religious foster care agency whose services are being shut down due to a conflict between Petitioner’s religious leadership and Respondent in their views about marriage.  Because of its religious tenets, Petitioner cannot endorse same-sex couples as foster parents, leading Respondent to cut off Petitioner’s foster care referrals. Petitioner filed suit seeking a preliminary injunction. The district court denied the injunction, a decision which the Third Circuit affirmed. Petitioner asks the Supreme Court to resolve the circuit split in interpreting Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), to decide whether Smith should be revisited and to determine whether Respondent’s actions constitute an unconstitutional restraint on Petitioner’s First Amendment rights. Petitioner argues that the Third Circuit’s standard for proving a violation of the Free Exercise Clause is so narrow as to make it almost impossible to prevail, asserting that plaintiffs are required by the Third Circuit to prove that their actions would be permissible by the Government if they held different religious views. Petitioner further argues that the circuit split in applying Smith is proof that Smith itself needs to be revisited for clarification. Lastly, Petitioner argues that Respondent is placing an unconstitutional condition on Petitioner’s First Amendment rights by requiring Petitioner to endorse Respondent’s views in order to continue to act as a foster agency.


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