9-0. Can we please take religious freedom seriously now?

If you try to cancel God, this Supreme Court will say “thou shalt not!”

All nine of them, apparently. Who would have thought?

The unanimous decision came in a homegrown case for us Pennsylvanians, a case called Fulton v City of Philadelphia. The basic facts: Sharonell Fulton has raised more than 40 foster children during the past quarter century, largely with the help of Catholic Social Services (CSS), a century-old agency that receives referrals and funding from the City. Based on longstanding Catholic doctrine, CSS does not place children in same-sex households or with the unmarried. Instead, it refers those couples to other foster care agencies.

A journalist reported this to the City, which, after investigating, stopped referring children to CSS and stripped them of funding. In the ensuing lawsuit, CSS claimed it was being treated differently because of its religious beliefs, in violation of the U.S. Constitution. It lost at both the District and Appellate levels.  

But every Supreme Court justice joined in reversing the lower courts. In an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court said: “The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. … CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.”

Pretty straightforward. Let religious organizations be who they are.

Predictably, those on the losing side are spinning this as a “narrow” ruling. No new precedent. Nothing to see here. Let’s move on.

Wrong. One hundred percent wrong—sort of how 9-0 equals one-hundred percent. What this Supreme Court did was to shout from the mountaintop, with one voice, that religious freedom matters as much as any other freedom.

In fact, Fulton completes a triumvirate of religious freedom cases decided in favor of the faithful. Together with Masterpiece Cakeshop in 2018 (the baker case where a 7-2 majority directed judicial bodies to be “tolerant,” “respectful,” and “neutral” toward religion in Free Exercise cases), and Hobby Lobby in 2014 (a 5-4 case allowing religious business owners to opt out of providing abortifacients to employees under Obamacare), the Supreme Court has repeatedly reminded us that there’s a reason the Founders made religious liberty the very first right in the very first amendment to the Constitution. Toss in a couple recent wrist slaps to governors who singled out churches for covid restrictions—no names please, but their initials are Cuomo and Newsom—and we have a clear storyline emerging.

And for the record, the word “narrow” is no part of that storyline, unless by “narrow” you mean some pebbles in the ocean whose ripple effects eventually reach the horizon. That’s how far-reaching these “narrow” rulings are.

In plainer English, the implications of this line of cases are profound, protecting beleaguered business owners of faith, religious schools under fire, churches that just want to be left alone by the government, and frankly, any devout Jew or Muslim or Christian targeted by the secular, think-what-I-think-or-else State mafia. Rather, writes the Fulton court, “so long as the government can achieve its interests in a manner that does not burden religion, it must do so.”

“Must.” That doesn’t sound very “narrow.”

Bottom line: The anti-religious bureaucrats and bullies have again overplayed their hand. Even the liberals on the Court disagree with your one-sided interpretation of the Constitution.

Perhaps instead it’s time to take seriously your cherished values of inclusivity and tolerance. They’re good values. They also happen to affirm religious freedom. So perhaps it’s time to take that seriously, too.

Skeptical? Just ask a Supreme Court justice. Any of them.

Michael Zigarelli is the editor of Christianity9to5.org, a ministry based in Mechanicsburg, and the author of several books.