Barrett, Top Court Weigh Religion Case That May Snub Gay Couples

U.S. Supreme Court conservatives including new Justice Amy Coney Barrett weighed bolstering religious rights in a case that could let a Catholic charity refuse to work with same-sex couples when helping to place foster children in Philadelphia.

Hearing arguments Wednesday even as the nation tried to sort out the results of the presidential election, the court’s strengthened conservative wing questioned Philadelphia’s effort to enforce its anti-discrimination requirements in contracts with the private agencies that screen potential foster families.

The case promises an early indication of how aggressive the court will be in protecting religious freedoms -- and limiting gay rights -- now that Barrett has replaced the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and created a 6-3 conservative majority. The court is scheduled to rule by late June in the case, which centers on the constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion.

Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito were upfront in their skepticism of Philadelphia’s policy. Kavanaugh said the city was “looking for a fight.”

“What I fear here is that the absolutist and extreme position that you’re articulating would require us to go back on the promise of respect for religious believers,” Kavanaugh told the city’s lawyer, Neal Katyal.

Katyal said the city was “torn up” about the decision to drop Catholic Social Services and acted only after another agency had turned a same-sex couple away.

“The city took that reasonable limited action and they certainly don’t need to wait for an instance of discrimination with respect to this particular entity,” Katyal said.