Kathryn Jean Lopez: Finding common ground

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch should be household names. Fulton and Simms-Busch were the plaintiffs in a recent foster-care and religious-liberty case at the Supreme Court. It was a unanimous ruling, as you may have heard, and that is somewhat remarkable. Legal eagles who labor to defend religious liberty have qualms about the narrowness of the ruling, but I’m grateful for the message it sends.

The city of Philadelphia stopped working with Catholic Social Services because of Catholic teaching about same-sex marriage. Marriage being between a man and a woman, of course, was acceptable to the likes of Barack Obama and Joe Biden not so long ago. But now cultural winds have shifted, and there is a tyrannical impulse to make people submit or be ostracized or penalized.

In a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Fulton and Simms-Busch explained in human terms why Catholic Social Services is so important in the city of Philadelphia: “Faith-affirming foster care and adoption agencies are crucial in our community. Shutting them down because of what they believe would devastate already at-risk children by reducing the number of families able and willing to care for them. Some families choose to foster or adopt only if they can partner with an agency that shares their religious beliefs.”

They added: “Allowing for a diverse array of foster agencies to serve the community is vital. Over 60% of the foster families Catholic Social Services certifies and supports are racial or ethnic minorities. Philadelphia desperately needs more families like these to care for children in need.”

These two women are not only beautiful mothers, but happy warriors for religious liberty and pluralism. On a certain block in New York City’s Greenwich Village in June, there was a traditional Catholic Corpus Christi Eucharistic adoration procession through the streets — it went past the Stonewall Inn, a gay pride landmark, right around the block from St. Joseph’s Church. Fast-forward a few weeks, and that whole area was rainbowed and celebrating some things that the Church does not approve of. And this is how it should be. We should be able to live together. The Catholics will try to live as they believe, and others will choose to live and believe otherwise. But we can respect differences. And in the case of foster-care and adoption, a refusal to respect differences hurts children.

Fulton and Simms-Busch are some of the best of America. Parenting is the most important work there is, and foster parenting involves a beautiful stretching of the heart to a radical kind of hospitality. As Fulton and Simms-Busch explain in their Wall Street Journal piece, children in foster care often suffer from trauma. They need the support of faith-based, mission-driven agencies who share their world-view. And other agencies offer alternatives for those who believe differently.

Another of the original plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case is a woman named Cecilia Paul, a widow who died during the course of the legal proceedings. One of her adoptive sons from foster care explained in an amicus brief for the case: Growing up in Paul’s house prepared him for life. She encouraged him to “work hard, focus and do what you like.” Now he’s in his 30s with children of his own and a career.

These days, we watch politics like it’s a reality TV show. We root for sides, like we’re talking about sports. We can get swept up in trends and forget the real, innocent people impacted by government decisions.

When Philadelphia did what it did, it impacted vulnerable people. We are a people who have some severe disagreements on fundamentals. But we’re a nation based on defending people’s right to be wrong. We can live together. We need to live together. Different opinions should not be considered hate or bigotry. We are clearly a country divided on some things. Let’s never let children suffer because of our adult arguments. Protecting them needs to be a place of common ground. That’s the adult thing to do.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and an author. Email her at