For Immediate Release
Lawsuit Challenging Government Funding of ‘Faith-Based’ Youth Home to Go Forward
WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court ruled today that a lawsuit brought by the
American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of
Church and State challenging government funding of a religious group's
youth home in Kentucky can go forward.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling
and ruled that taxpayers have standing to bring a legal challenge to
the state's decision to fund Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children (since
renamed Sunrise Children's Services), which indoctrinated children
placed under state care with its religious beliefs.
"This Baptist agency has made no secret of the fact that it was
evangelizing children under the state's care in complete disregard of
the Constitution's ban on government-sponsored religion," said the Rev.
Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "We're extremely
pleased that the court has made it clear that taxpayers have the right
to challenge government when it promotes religious doctrine."
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of several taxpayers and Alicia
Pedreira, a lesbian who was fired from the group home after someone at
the agency saw a photograph of Pedreira and her partner at the state
fair. In addition to the constitutional challenge, Pedreira had also
claimed that the agency illegally discriminated against her because she
did not conform to the religious beliefs of the agency.
Although the appeals court dismissed that claim, the court said that
she would be allowed to present evidence of her firing to prove that
the funding of the agency violated the Constitution's prohibition of
"While I'm disappointed that Baptist Homes won't be held liable for
firing me, today's decision helps ensure that government funds won't be
given to employers who discriminate based on their religious beliefs
about sexual orientation, and that's why I brought this case," said
Pedreira, who after struggling for years to get her career back on
track, is currently working as a counselor in Louisville.
Filed in April 2000, this lawsuit has been closely watched by many
because it underscores the problems that arise when government funds
religious organizations to perform their functions.
"The government should be helping to end discrimination against gay
people, not funding it," said Ken Choe, a senior staff attorney with
the ACLU's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. "While today's
decision gives taxpayers recourse when the government oversteps the
line in funding religiously affiliated service providers, this case
illustrates all too well what can go wrong when the government fails to
ensure appropriate safeguards."
Added Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J.
Luchenitser, who argued the appeal before the court, "This decision
puts the brakes on the Religious Right's efforts to keep taxpayers out
of court in order to allow unfettered public funding of religious
indoctrination. Proselytizing groups should not be able to get away
with using government money illegally because they think that no one
can sue them."
The court noted that reviews conducted by a private company of
Baptist Homes "contain 296 interview responses from youth describing
[Baptist Homes'] religious practices as coercive." The court also
quoted a Baptist Homes annual report as stating, "The angels rejoiced
last year as 244 of our children made decisions about their
relationships with Jesus Christ."
The case is returned to the district court for trial, but other appeals are possible.
In addition to Choe and Luchenitser, the legal team representing
Pedreira includes Americans United Legal Director Ayesha Khan; ACLU
attorneys James Esseks, David Friedman, Daniel Mach and William Sharp;
ACLU cooperating attorney Vicki Buba of the Oldfather Law Firm in
Louisville, KY; attorneys David Bergman, Joshua Wilson, Elizabeth
Leise, Alicia Truman, Lea Johnston, and Alessandro Maggi of the
international law firm Arnold & Porter LLP; and Washington, D.C.
attorney Murray Garnick.
A copy of today's opinion is available at http://www.aclu.org/pdfs/lgbt/pedreira_6cir_opinion.pdf and the order is available at http://www.aclu.org/pdfs/lgbt/pedreira_6cir_order.pdf.
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.