AU Lawsuit Challenging Funding Of Baptist Agency Gets High Court Green Light

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a lower court decision allowing taxpayers in Kentucky to sue over public funding of a Baptist child-care agency.

The case has been in the courts since 2000. Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union are representing Alicia Pedreira and other Kentucky taxpayers in a lawsuit against the state and Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children.

AU and the ACLU charge that the Baptist agency has accepted millions in public funds, even though it indoctrinates children in religious beliefs and discriminates on religious grounds in employment. (Pedreira, for example, had excellent performance reviews but was fired after ministry officials learned that she is a lesbian.)

AU and the ACLU argue that the “faith-based” agency should not be eligible for public support. The lawsuit, Pedreira v. Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, alleges that the use of taxpayer dollars to fund the Baptist Homes, now called Sunrise Children’s Services, is unconstitutional.

During the course of the suit, AU attorneys discovered that children sent to the Baptist Homes had religion forced on them or were not allowed to follow their own faith. (See “Trouble at the Old Kentucky Home,” June 2000 Church & State.)

Documents obtained through the lawsuit reported that numerous children – including Catholic, Pentecostal, Jehovah’s Witness and atheist youths – felt pressured into giving up their religion.

One teenager said, “They tried to more or less force me to become a Christian.” Another told of facing repercussions if children didn’t study the Bible or attend religious services. Yet another said youngsters were “not allowed to choose when or when not to attend a religious service.” A child who is a Jehovah’s Witness reported “not being allowed to practice that faith” while living at a Baptist Homes facility called the Genesis Home in Mayfield, Ky.

The case has had a convoluted legal history. The lawsuit initially charged both that Kentucky is violating the Constitution by funding Baptist Homes and that Baptist Homes violated employment-discrimination statutes by terminating Pedreira due to her sexual orientation.

A federal district court originally dismissed both the tax-funding and the employment discrimination claims. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then reinstated part of the case. Though the appellate panel dismissed Pedreira’s employment discrimination claims, it upheld state taxpayers’ right to challenge state support for a faith-based agency with a record of indoctrination and job discrimination.

On April 18, the Supreme Court declined to review the appellate panel’s ruling rejecting an attempted appeal by Baptist Homes. The lawsuit now goes back to the federal district court for further proceedings, including a possible trial.

The district court will now determine whether Kentucky acted unconstitutionally by providing government funds to Baptist Homes for the performance of social services in a sectarian manner.

The facility continues to receive tax support. It has received more than $100 million in government funds since the case began.