The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: (202) 466-3234,Joe Conn,Rob Boston,Sandhya Bathija

Federal Appeals Court To Hear Argument In Kentucky Case Contesting 'Faith-Based' Bias

Civil Liberties Groups Say Taxpayers Should Be Allowed To Challenge Public Funding Of Baptist Childcare Agency That Indoctrinates Children And Discriminates Against Gay Workers Based on Religion


Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American
Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday, March 11, will urge a federal
appeals court 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.

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
home's religious beliefs about homosexuality in 1998 after it became
publicly known that she is a lesbian.

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 6th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals to reinstate the case so that the plaintiffs can pursue their
challenge to public funding for Kentucky Baptist Homes.

"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."

Added Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J.
Luchenitser, who will argue the case before the appeals court, "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."

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. Alicia Pedreira
was fired because she didn't conform to the religious beliefs of her
government-funded employer."

Said Alicia Pedreira, "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. 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

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."

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; ACLU attorneys James Esseks, David
Friedman, Daniel Mach and William Sharp; and Vicki Buba of the
Oldfather Law Firm in Louisville, Ky.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.