October 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Americans United and its allies last month reached an agreement with Kentucky officials to protect vulnerable children in the state’s care from unwanted religious proselytization and discrimination.

The agreement, filed in January with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, settles Pedreira v. Sunrise Children’s Services, a lawsuit that was filed more than 20 years ago.

The parties to the agreement had accordingly moved to dismiss the lawsuit, and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky entered an order officially ending the case Sept. 8. However, Sunrise Children’s Services, the child care facility involved in the case, has made clear that it plans to continue fighting the matter in court.

AU filed the suit with the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Kentucky in the summer of 2000. It challenged several practices at a taxpayer-funded religious home for children in state care, including minors being subjected to proselytism.

Under the settlement, Kentucky officials have agreed to take steps to ensure children are not subjected to religious proselytization, coercion or discrimination when they are placed by the state with taxpayer-funded residential child care providers. State officials also agreed to take action to prohibit providers from discriminating against or mistreating children because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The state will also inform children and, if available, their parents, of the religious affiliation of a proposed residential child care facility or foster home, and if the children or parents object, the state will try to provide an alternative placement, ex­cept in certain special circumstances. Also, children must provide consent before any religious items are displayed in their rooms at taxpayer-funded child care agencies and foster homes, and religious materials may be given only to children who request them.

Parts of the settlement are contingent on being codified into new or amended state regulations.

“This settlement advances the religious freedom of taxpayers and children across Kentucky,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal director of Americans United. “Vulnerable children should never be religiously proselytized or coerced in state-funded facilities.”

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