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Saturday, July 26, 2008

KY Baptist Homes Public Funding Dispute

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union are urging a federal appeals court to deny tax funding to Kentucky Baptist Homes For Children, Inc. because the childcare agency provides religious instruction to the youngsters in its care and fired a lesbian employee in 1998.

The lawsuit asserts that Kentucky Baptist Homes can’t rightfully accept public funding while “imposing religious dogma” on the children in its facilities, and that the Homes’ anti-homosexual employment policy violates civil rights laws.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Kentucky group that includes Alicia Pedreira, formerly employed at the Louisville home. Pedreira was terminated after Kentucky Baptist Homes learned she is a lesbian. Pedreira said, “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 earlier this year, ruling that the plaintiffs do not have legal standing to bring it. Americans United and the ACLU have asked the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the case and strike down public funding for Kentucky Baptist Homes.

“Kentucky Baptist Homes is on a mission to evangelize on the taxpayer’s dime,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “The Constitution simply does not allow this. Faith-based charities that want to indoctrinate youths should not get public funds.”

Senior Litigation Counsel for American United for Separation of Church and State, Alex J. Luchenitser, said, “The trial judge was way off base in dismissing this case on legal technicalities. If this wrong-headed ruling is allowed to stand, it will eviscerate the rights of taxpayers to challenge public funding of religion.”

Ken Choe, a senior staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, said, “This case illustrates the all-too-real dangers of the government funding religious organizations without adequate safeguards. The Constitution’s promise of religious freedom guarantees that the government won’t preference one form of religion over another. Yet that’s exactly what happened to Alicia Pedreira, who was fired because she didn’t conform to the religious beliefs of her government-funded employer.”

The legal brief is being drafted by Luchenitser and Choe, Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan; Washington, D.C., attorney Murray Garnick; attorneys David Bergman, Joshua Wilson, Elizabeth Leise, Alicia Truman, Lea Johnston and Alessandro Maggi of the international law firm Arnold & Porter LLP; and ACLU attorneys James Esseks, David Friedman and Daniel Mach.

The brief asserts, “Baptist Homes uses its public funding to indoctrinate youths who are wards of the state in its religious views, coerce them to take part in religious activity, and convert them to its version of Christianity, and does so in part by requiring its employees to reflect its religious beliefs in their behavior.”

Source: Americans United for the Separation of Church and State

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