Federal Appeals Court To Hear Challenge To Kentucky Childcare Agency’s ‘Faith-Based’ Bias

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
March 9, 2009 12:00 am

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Taxpayers Have Right To Challenge Public Funding Of Religious Indoctrination And Discrimination, Says AU And ACLU

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CINCINNATI, OH — Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union will urge a federal appeals court on Wednesday to uphold the right of taxpayers to challenge public funding of a Baptist childcare agency that proselytizes youngsters in its care and discriminates against gay employees who do not share its belief that homosexuality is sinful.

“This is a vitally important lawsuit for all Americans,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United Executive Director. “It will determine whether taxpayers can be forced to subsidize religious indoctrination and religious discrimination. The civil rights and civil liberties of every American are very much at stake.”

The lawsuit, Pedreira v. Kentucky Baptist Homes For Children, Inc., asserts that Kentucky Baptist Homes has no right to accept state and federal funding while imposing religious dogma on the children in its programs and that the Homes’ religion-based anti-gay employment policy violates civil rights laws.

The federal court action comes at a time when government support for “faith-based” social services remains a deeply controversial national issue. Former President George W. Bush supported government funding of religion and religiously based job discrimination through his faith-based initiative. President Barack Obama has drawn criticism for failing to revise the Bush plan to include much-needed civil rights and civil liberties safeguards.

The Pedreira lawsuit was filed in 2000 on behalf of a group of Kentucky taxpayers, including Alicia Pedreira, an employee at the Louisville home who worked with troubled young people. Despite her excellent performance reviews, Pedreira was terminated based on the Homes’ religious beliefs about homosexuality in 1998 after it became publicly known that she is a lesbian.

“I put my heart and soul into helping the children who were under the care of Baptist Homes and was making a difference in their lives,” said Alicia Pedreira. “It was unfair to be fired for being a lesbian. It’s not right that an organization that is funded by state and federal dollars to do work for the state can get away with this.”

A federal district court dismissed the case on March 31, 2008, ruling that the plaintiffs do not have legal standing to bring it. Americans United and the ACLU are asking the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to reinstate the case so that the plaintiffs can pursue their challenge to public funding for Kentucky Baptist Homes.

“Our federal courts must keep the door open to Americans whose religious liberty rights are being violated. The trial judge’s decision threatens to essentially take church-state separation out of the Constitution,” said Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser, who will argue the case before the appeals court.

In documents filed with the 6th Circuit, Americans United and the ACLU noted numerous examples of the religious nature of the childcare agency. Its president has touted the Homes’ success in converting children, and the agency calls itself “Christ centered.”

“This case illustrates the all-too-real dangers of the government funding religious organizations without adequate safeguards,” said Ken Choe, a senior staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. “Alicia Pedreira was fired because she didn’t conform to the religious beliefs of her government-funded employer.”

A report by the Children’s Review Program, a private contractor hired by Kentucky officials to monitor programs for children, lists numerous instances where young people complained about being forced to attend Baptist services or said they were not permitted to attend services of other faiths.

The Pedreira case is scheduled for oral argument at 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 11 at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, 100 E. Fifth St., Cincinnati, Ohio.

Attorneys joining Luchenitser and Choe on the Pedreira legal team include Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan; Washington, D.C., attorney Murray Garnick; attorneys David Bergman, Joshua Wilson, Elizabeth Leise, and Alicia Truman of the international law firm Arnold & Porter LLP; and ACLU attorneys James Esseks, David Friedman, Daniel Mach, and William Sharp, and Vicki Buba of the Oldfather Law Firm.

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