Companies offering insurance coverage to Liberty University are not required to defend the school against charges that it allegedly participated in a 2009 kidnapping, a federal appeals court has ruled.
Liberty University Law School has been accused of conspiring with an “ex-gay” woman who broke up with her partner and allegedly kidnapped the child over whom they had joint custody. That case is ongoing, and Liberty sued its own insurance providers to force them to defend the school against the allegations. A federal district court sided with the school, but in July the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s ruling.
In 2003, Vermont couple Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins split up. The two had a legally binding civil union and were the parents of a child named Isabella. Although Isabella is the biological daughter of Miller, the two women had raised the child jointly, and, after their civil union was dissolved, a Vermont court granted primary custody to Miller but gave Jenkins liberal visitation rights.
But Miller, who had become involved with a conservative Baptist church and renounced being gay, denied Jenkins’ right to visit Isabella. Miller moved to Virginia, where, backed by Mat Staver’s far-right legal group Liberty Counsel, she fought in Virginia courts to nullify the Vermont court’s visitation order. That attempt failed when the Virginia Supreme Court refused to intervene in the matter.
Things took a turn for the worse for Miller in 2009, when a Vermont court, citing her non-compliance with the visitation order, shifted primary custody of Isabella to Jenkins.
At that point, Miller and Isabella disappeared. A Tennessee pastor was convicted in 2012 of assisting an international kidnapping for his part in allegedly helping Miller and Isabella flee the United States. They are reportedly living in Nicaragua.
The New York Times reported that the pastor, Timothy David Miller, helped Miller and her daughter fly from Canada to Mexico in September 2009. The Times reported that Miller and Isabella “stayed in a beach house in Nicaragua that is owned by a conservative businessman with close ties to Liberty University, an evangelical school in Lynchburg, Va., and whose daughter works at the university’s law school, according to the affidavit.” (Liberty Univ. v. Citizens Insuranbce Co.)