Fatma Marouf is a law professor in Texas, specializing in immigration and refugee law. She travels around the country, giving lectures and engaging in other activities to support refugee rights. It was through this work that Marouf became aware of an unadvertised refugee issue: that there were many unaccompanied refugee children in the U.S. who were in need of homes.

Marouf and her wife decided they wanted to help. They submitted an application to foster a refugee child to the local agency in charge of placing refugee children: Catholic Charities of Forth Worth. The organization denied their application on the grounds that same-sex marriage goes against the tenants of the Catholic religion.

Is this legal?

Catholic Charities works as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to handle the issue of refugee placement. Since the federal government is not a religious organization—and same-sex marriage was legalized across the country in 2015—Marouf and her wife argue that Catholic Charities must act in accordance with federal law. They have filed a lawsuit, holding that the organization is not allowed to discriminate against same-sex couples for religious reasons.

Implications on church and state

If successful, this lawsuit will raise questions about how the government should handle such issues moving forward. For large-scale issues of national concern—such as the refugee crisis—it is common for the federal government to contract work out to third-party agencies. Should the government be prohibited from contracting to organizations whose values are not in alignment with the law? Or should such organizations, if contracted, be required to defer to the rule of law, even if this conflicts with the organization’s values?