We continue working toward concluding our two-decade-old challenge to Kentucky’s funding of a religiously affiliated childcare agency that has been proselytizing children in its care, Pedreira v. Sunrise Children’s Services. We filed suit in April 2000 (along with the ACLU) challenging state financing of Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children (now known as Sunrise Children’s Services). The suit, which we brought both against the Commonwealth of Kentucky and against the religiously affiliated childcare agency, alleged that Baptist Homes had been discriminating against LGBTQ employees on religious grounds and indoctrinating its young residents in sectarian beliefs. Our complaint further alleged that taxpayer financing of these activities violates the Establishment Clause and that the organization’s anti-LGBTQ employment policy violated federal and state employment laws.

After proceedings in both the district court and in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in March 2013 we reached a settlement agreement with the State that would have forbidden childcare agencies that contract with the State from proselytizing children, pressuring children to take part in religious activities, and discriminating against children on the basis of their religious beliefs. But Baptist Homes appealed and asked the courts to force the parties to continue litigation, and also challenged our right to sue in the first place. The Sixth Circuit affirmed our right to bring suit, but asked the trial court to analyze the fairness of the settlement more closely. Baptist Homes (for the second time in the litigation) asked the Supreme Court to review whether we had the right to sue, and the Supreme Court (for the second time) declined to grant review.

In 2016, back in the trial court, Kentucky tried to change its position and get out of the settlement because a governor with a new “philosophy” had been elected. After briefing, the court rejected that argument but later held that the settlement agreement violated state law because it could not be implemented without modification of existing state regulations, and the court therefore denied approval of the settlement. We appealed that decision, but—after briefing about whether we were allowed to appeal, culminating in a decision that the appeal was indeed permissible—the Sixth Circuit affirmed the trial court in September 2020 and held that the existing settlement agreement did violate a state statute.

In January 2021, we reached a new settlement agreement with the State that does not run afoul of the state statute. Like the earlier settlements, the agreement protects children in Kentucky residential childcare facilities against religious discrimination, religious proselytization, and religious coercion. In addition, and unlike the prior settlements, the new settlement protects the children against discrimination and other mistreatment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. On September 8, 2021, the district court agreed with us that this settlement terminates the case.

The religious childcare agency appealed that determination. We filed our appellate brief on March 10, 2022. On August 22, 2023, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that the settlement terminates the case.

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The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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