Sep 15, 2011

In April 2000, we filed suit (along with the ACLU) challenging state financing of Sunrise Children's Services. Sunrise discriminates against gay employees on religious grounds and teaches sectarian beliefs to its young residents.

Our complaint alleged that taxpayer financing of these activities violates the Establishment Clause and that the organization's anti-gay employment policy violated federal and state employment laws. In July 2001, the trial court dismissed the employment claims and the portion of our Establishment Clause claim that relied on Sunrise's employment policies. The trial court later dismissed our remaining claims on the ground that our clients lacked standing as taxpayers to challenge the government's funding of Sunrise. We appealed this ruling. (Read our Opening Brief and Reply Brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.)

In August 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reinstated our Establishment Clause funding claims, but affirmed the dismissal of our employment claims. The Supreme Court denied Sunrise's petition for review in April 2011. (Read our Brief in Opposition to Sunrise's Supreme Court petition.)

The case then returned to the trial court. In March 2013, we reached a settlement agreement in principle with the State, with the following terms:

  • Child-care agencies that contract with the State would be forbidden from proselytizing children, pressuring children to take part in religious activities, and discriminating against children on the basis of their religious beliefs.
  • Child-care agencies would be prohibited from placing religious items in children’s rooms without their consent.  
  • The state would be barred from placing children in a religiously affiliated facility over a child’s or parent’s objection, unless no alternative facility that can address the child’s needs is available.  
  • The state would be required to closely monitor state-funded child-care agencies to ensure that they are complying with the terms of the settlement, and to provide us with detailed records that would enable us to confirm compliance.  
Despite our agreement with Kentucky, Sunrise filed papers asking the court to reject the settlement and force the parties to continue to litigate. The trial court rejected Sunrise’s challenge to the settlement, and Sunrise appealed the ruling, arguing (once again) that the plaintiffs lacked the right to sue, and that the settlement was unfair. (Read our brief to the Court of Appeals opposing Sunrise's challenge to the settlement agreement.)    In October 2015, the Sixth Circuit re-affirmed the plaintiffs' right to sue but sent the case back to the district court for a closer analysis of the fairness of the settlement. Later that month, Sunrise petitioned the Sixth Circuit for en banc rehearing on the issue of the plaintiffs' right to sue, which the Sixth Circuit denied.   Sunrise petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Sixth Circuit's decision in February 2016. In May 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case. Proceedings directed toward approval of the settlement will now continue in the district court.    Now in its sixteenth year, this is our oldest active lawsuit.   Read our Church & State article about the settlement agreement