A Baptist childcare agency in Kentucky that proselytizes youngsters in its care and discriminates in hiring should not get public funding, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union have told a federal appeals court.
The groups filed an appeal in July of a lower court decision in Pedreira v. Kentucky Baptist Homes For Children, Inc. The legal action 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 employment policy violates civil rights laws.
The case 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. (AU Board of Trustees President Paul Simmons is also one of the plaintiffs.)
A federal district court dismissed the case earlier this year, ruling that the plaintiffs do not have “standing” to bring it. Americans United and the ACLU have asked the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the legal action and strike down public funding for Kentucky Baptist Homes.
“Kentucky Baptist Homes is on a mission to evangelize on the taxpayer’s dime,” said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. “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.”
Pedreira said her goal is to get back to working with children in need.
“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,” she said. “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 July 17, 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.”