In Decision Highlighting Danger of Bush Faith-Based Plan, Court Says State-Funded Baptist Group Can Fire Lesbian

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
July 24, 2001 12:00 am

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LOUISVILLE, KY – A federal court today said a taxpayer-funded Baptist agency could legally fire a lesbian, in a decision the American Civil Liberties Union called “a wake-up call” about the dangers posed by the White House’s proposed “faith-based initiative.”

“There can now be no question that if the Bush initiative is passed, the result will be government-funded discrimination,” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “While we strongly disagree with its finding, the court has confirmed our worst fears, and said that under current law religious organizations may discriminate even if they are using tax dollars to do so.”

Anders added that while the Kentucky case is about a lesbian, it could as easily be about an unmarried pregnant woman or a white employee whose spouse is African American or an unmarried female employee living with her boyfriend.

“Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children should play by the same rules that apply to everyone else receiving taxpayer money,” Anders said. “Instead of responsibly using government money to hire the best qualified social worker, this agency applied its own discriminatory criteria — which meant that the best person lost her job.”

Last year, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children (KBHC) and the State of Kentucky on behalf of Alicia Pedreira, a top-notch therapist at KBHC who was fired once KBHC found out she is a lesbian. In a funding relationship that closely mirrors the White House’s proposal, KBHC receives more than half of its $19 million annual budget from the state.

The ACLU lawsuit contends that KBHC fired Pedreira because her sexual orientation contradicted the agency’s religious beliefs, and made her incapable of inculcating Baptist views on the children. This was religious discrimination in violation of state and federal law, the ACLU said. The lawsuit also argues that Pedreira’s firing and the funding relationship between KBHC and the state violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In today’s decision on KBHC’s motion to dismiss the case, the court dismissed all of the employment-related claims, but left intact claims about the funding relationship and provisions of services being unconstitutional.

The decision comes on the heels of a controversial Congressional debate in Washington over H.R. 7, legislation to make real President George W. Bush’s “faith-based initiative” to funnel additional public money into religious organizations and relax existing safeguards that prevent the money being used for religious purposes or discriminatory hiring.

While the House ultimately adopted H.R. 7, it only did so after House leaders were able to quell an uprising among moderate Republicans concerned about government negotiations with the Salvation Army over its ability to override state and local laws that provide broader civil rights protections than federal law.

“Today’s decision is the next logical step to the Salvation Army controversy,” Anders said. “Those who found the Salvation Army’s requests disturbing should be horrified at today’s decision in Louisville.”

Within a few weeks, the ACLU will decide whether to appeal the parts of the case that were dismissed, or proceed to trial on the remaining claims.

“While we’re pleased that the court recognized our concerns about government money funding religious institutions, we’re deeply disappointed by the court’s view of the employment aspects of the case,” said Ken Choe, Staff Counsel with the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, which brought the case.

For more information about the Pedreira case, see:

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