SCOTUS sides with liberalism in Fulton v. Philadelphia
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At a time when American politics are sharply and bitterly divided, a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court on a case implicated in the country's culture wars is a rarity. Fulton v City of Philadelphia is certainly one such case. But the decision announced on Thursday morning is also a very good thing - for the plaintiffs, of course, but also for American liberalism, understood correctly.
The case concerned a Catholic welfare organization sued Philadelphia after the city banned it from a care program due to the organization's refusal to certify same-sex couples as foster parents. Conservative Judges Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch were poised to issue a comprehensive ruling to prevent the Employment Division v. Smith, repealed a decision written by Antonin Scalia in 1990 that made it difficult for religious people and groups to obtain exemptions from generally applicable laws. (Judges Stephen Breyer, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett are also eager to see Smith leave, but seem unsure of what to replace.)
To avoid a blanket outcome that would likely have compelled the court's liberal justices to dissent, Justice Colonel John Roberts appears to have reached a closer verdict against the City of Philadelphia - one that could secure their support. This kind of consensus building in the Supreme Court with a potentially divisive case, which is resolved closely and with the broadest possible consensus, is a welcome model for governing in a dangerously polarized time.
But the bigger reason the decision deserves praise is that it upholds a key principle of political liberalism. The First Amendment protects the freedom to practice one's religion. Such an exercise is not limited to individuals attending church or praying in private homes. These persons are free to associate and associate with others of their faith in civil society. This includes the freedom of a Catholic social service to facilitate adoptions, even if the core beliefs underlying that agency preclude the ease of adoption for same-sex couples.
To insist that such organizations put aside their core beliefs when they clash with the moral beliefs of ideological progressivism - or, in the language of the Fulton Decision, forcing a Catholic organization “to curtail its mission or to foster same-sex couples certify ". in violation of their religious convictions "- is an act of illiberalism. For it boils down to insisting that not only the state, but also private religious bodies must uniformly affirm a comprehensive moral view as the price for entering the public square, which is different from and in conflict with its own, effectively making the country a political community with an established church of progressive moral absolutism.
Liberalism is or should be an ideology open to rich and lively pluralism. This is exactly what the Supreme Court confirmed in its ruling in the Fulton v City of Philadelphia case.
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Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
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