The Supreme Court’s Fulton decision helps children across America

On Thursday, Andrea Widburg reported on the unanimous Supreme Court decision in Fulton v. Philadelphia holding that Philadelphia violated Catholic Social Services' First Amendment rights when it barred organizations opposed to gay "marriage" from certifying homes for foster child placement.  In Kentucky, this ruling is already beginning to bear fruit.

There's been a conflict between the Kentucky Baptist Convention and Governor Andy Beshear over a single sentence in a contract with Sunrise Children's Services ("Sunrise").  Sunrise, which was started in 1869, is both one of Kentucky's oldest foster care providers and an institution of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.  Beginning in the 1970s, it's partnered with Kentucky to facilitate foster placement and adoptions.

The problematic sentence concerns LGBT rights.  The Kentucky Baptists had held out in signing a new contract that required them to abandon a deeply held religious belief.  This issue had never before been a problem.  Now, though, the governor and his administration have insisted that Kentucky law mandates the contract language:

Susan Dunlap, a spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, argued the agreement submitted to Sunrise is "an agreement required by federal law." Adding to the confusion, the Courier-Journal, the paper of record in Kentucky, characterized the dispute with the misleading headline, "Baptist group refuses Kentucky state contract to provide care for abused, neglected kids."

This dispute has a significant impact on kids in need.  Sunrise is the largest private residential childcare provider in Kentucky, providing daily care to more than 1,000 children and families.  The agency has also facilitated more than 500 adoptions of Kentucky children.  Sunrise has worked with the commonwealth for approximately 80 years and through 14 gubernatorial administrations and sees caring for children as its religious calling:

At the close of the Civil War, families in Kentucky were left devastated. As a border state with torn loyalties, Kentucky saw families split and broken by the conflict. Death, sickness, and the poverty that followed left many children orphaned with no one to care for them. Since our beginnings as a ministry, Sunrise continues to be fueled by a faithful dedication to God's call for His people to be the hands and feet of Jesus in caring for innocent children.

Maybe now Sunrise can continue to rescue children without having to abandon its core beliefs.  That's because, on Thursday, in Fulton v. Philadelphia, the Supreme Court determined that requiring a religious organization to go against its deeply held beliefs is unconstitutional.

Daniel Cameron, Kentucky attorney general, reacted quickly, as did agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles, auditor Mike Harmon, and the state's House and Senate majority caucuses.  All joined Cameron in urging the governor to grant a child services contract to Sunrise Children's Services as previous governors had.  Cameron was clear about the Fulton decision's applicability to SCS:

"This ruling unanimously upholds the religious freedoms enshrined in our Constitution and is a victory for all Kentuckians and Americans of faith," Cameron said. "We will continue to fight to ensure the sacred liberties of our Constitution are upheld for Kentuckians and faith-based organizations across the Commonwealth. To that end, we urge Governor (Andy) Beshear to reinstate the contract with Sunrise Children's Services in light of this unanimous ruling from the nation's highest court. Sunrise must be allowed to continue serving Kentucky's children."

For the sake of children caught in the system in Kentucky, it is to be hoped that Gov. Beshear and his administration recognize that the Supreme Court's Fulton ruling squarely applies to Sunrise.

Image: A family in the sunrise by Austin Lowman.  Unsplash.

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