Bethany Christian Services of Greater Delaware Valley has confirmed that it changed its policies to allow staff to work with same-sex couples interested in fostering children in order to resume its foster work with the city of Philadelphia.
In a statement shared with The Christian Post on Friday, the global adoption and foster agency explained that it has altered its policies to abide by the city's nondiscrimination law that prevents discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The move comes after the city stopped placing foster children with Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia after learning that the organizations enforced policies that prohibit the placement of children with same-sex couples.
"We appreciate the city's decision to allow Bethany Christian Services of Greater Delaware Valley to continue to serve foster youth throughout the Philadelphia community," a statement from Bethany Christian Services reads. "We have a long-standing history of partnering with government and secular organizations to aid children in crisis, and we look forward to continuing our nearly 20 year partnership with the city."
The statement explains that the organization's deeply-held beliefs call on it to "work with vulnerable children and families" and stressed that it is "important that Christians remain in that space."
"To that end, while we will remain compliant with the law, we also remain committed to our Christian beliefs and core values," the statement adds. "We hope that all community organizations can work together in partnership to be a part of the solution, offering services to vulnerable children and families."
CP asked a Bethany Christian Services spokesperson to confirm whether or not the organization will place children in the homes of same-sex couples.
"As the statement addresses, Bethany of Greater Delaware Valley will comply with the law," the spokesperson responded in an email.
The law in question is the city's Fair Practices Ordinance, which bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Additionally, city contracts also prohibit such discrimination.
The decision by Bethany Christian Services to change its policy was reported last week by the Philadelphia Inquirer, which cited court testimony.
The newspaper later reported that Bethany Christian Services of Greater Delaware Valley has partnered with the Mayor's Office of LGBT Affairs to train staff on "cultural competency for serving individuals and same sex couples who are LGBTQ."
Meanwhile, Catholic Social Services is in the middle of a legal battle with the city over the matter. The organization has strongly stated that it will not change its policies to abide by the law and argues that city is violating the organization's First Amendment right to act in accordance with its strongly held Catholic teachings on marriage.
The lawsuit was filed by the organization and three foster families.
According to Becket attorney Lori Windham, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, the city has not only threatened to stop placing foster children with Catholic Social Services but threatened to terminate its relationship with the agency all together. In doing so, it would force the agency to "begin the process of shutting down."
The United States District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held a three-day hearing last week and heard testimony from a number of different witnesses. The court is expected to make a ruling in the coming days or hours.
"City officials admitted that they have at least 250 children who are currently in group home situations in the city of Philadelphia who they would like to place with foster families. Catholic Social Services now has 35 homes available with their families, yet the city will not place children in those homes because they work with Catholic Social Services," Windham said on a conference call with reporters Friday. "There is at least one award-winning foster parent's home that is sitting empty. This is Cecelia Paul, who was formerly named 'Foster Parent of the Year' by the city of Philadelphia. She has been fostering children for over 40 years and today, her home sits empty."
Windham cited court testimony to state that there has never been one LGBT person who has even approached Catholic Social Services about completing the home-study certification process to be a foster parent and that this whole ordeal revolves around a "hypothetical situation."
"After receiving a call from a newspaper, the Department of Human Services Commissioner [Cynthia] Figueroa and her first deputy called the religious social services providers to ask them about their policies regarding LGBT foster parents. They only called the religious foster care providers," Windham said.
"When they did not get the answer they wanted from Catholic Social Services, they summoned their leadership to city hall, where after a conversation with the Mayor [Jim Kenney], the commissioner told Catholic Social Services that it's not 100 years ago anymore and that the times have changed that they needed to be listening to Pope Francis rather than Archbishop [Joseph] Chaput. After that meeting, about 10 minutes later, they informed Catholic Social Services that they were closing down foster care referrals."
Windham said that it's quite common for foster care agencies to refer potential foster parents to other agencies for a variety of different reasons.
"The city is permitting foster care agencies to make referrals for a wide variety of secular purposes but will not let Catholic Social Services make referrals for religious reasons," Windham said. "Catholic Social Services is not looking to stand in the way of any couple becoming a foster parent. They are merely asking for the ability to refer them to one of 29 agencies that better fit their needs."
When asked what a good solution to this situation would be, Windham stressed that it would simply be a return "to the system that has been in place for the past 50 years."
The United States Supreme Court ruled earlier this month in the Masterpiece same-sex wedding cake case that the government cannot act with hostility toward religion and must remain neutral on that matter.
"This is direct and discriminatory targeting by the city," Windham argued. "This is exactly the kind of thing that is not permitted under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. This is particularly troubling given the commissioner's statements and given the mayor's long and well-known feelings and statements about the Archdiocese of Philadelphia."