Jul 17, 2008

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union today urged a federal appeals court to deny tax funding to a Baptist childcare agency that proselytizes youngsters in its care and fires gay employees.

The lawsuit, Pedreira v. Kentucky Baptist Homes For Children, Inc., asserts that Kentucky Baptist Homes has no right to accept public 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 lawsuit was filed 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 in 1998 after officials at the facility learned she is a lesbian.

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.”

Added Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser, “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.”

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 this.”   

In the appellate brief filed with the 6th Circuit today, Americans United and the ACLU note 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.”

The document also cites a report by the Children’s Review Program, a private contractor hired by Kentucky officials to monitor programs for children. The report noted 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.

Asserts the brief, “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.”

Joining Luchenitser and Choe in drafting the brief were 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.

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.