Sep 09, 2021

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Kentucky today announced that they’ve reached an agreement with Kentucky officials to protect vulnerable children in the state’s care from unwanted religious proselytization and discrimination. The agreement, filed previously 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 lawsuit yesterday.

In the settlement, Kentucky officials 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.

Other terms include that the state will 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. Defendant Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and Justice Mary C. Noble, then secretary of the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, agreed to the settlement. 

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

Corey Shapiro, legal director of ACLU of Kentucky: “This settlement is a great outcome for Kentucky’s foster children and for religious freedom. It requires Kentucky to work to protect vulnerable foster children from discrimination and unwanted religious coercion.”

Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief: “This agreement is a victory for religious liberty and will help ensure that state taxpayer dollars are not used to underwrite religious indoctrination.”

Americans United, the ACLU and the ACLU of Kentucky filed the lawsuit on behalf of Kentucky taxpayers who objected to their state tax dollars funding religious indoctrination and discrimination, including Alicia Pedreira, who was fired in 1998 by Sunrise Children’s Services (formerly known as Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children) because she is a lesbian, and faith leaders Johanna W.H. Van Wijk-Bos, an ordained Presbyterian minister, and Elwood Sturtevant, an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister.

The case litigation team includes David B. Bergman, Ian S. Hoffman, R. Stanton Jones and Stephen K. Wirth of the international law firm Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP; Luchenitser and legal fellow Adrianne Spoto at Americans United; Shapiro and Heather L. Gatnarek at the ACLU of Kentucky; and Mach of the national ACLU.

RESOURCES:

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

For more than 100 years, the ACLU has worked in courts, legislatures, and communities to protect the constitutional rights of all people. With a nationwide network of offices and millions of members and supporters, the ACLU takes on the toughest civil liberties fights in pursuit of liberty and justice for all.