Disarray Among House Gop Over Job Discrimination Leads To Postponement Of Faith-based Initiative

AU's Lynn Says Bill Is 'Political Nightmare For The White House'

A federal judge in Kentucky has dismissed part of a lawsuit against a Baptist youth agency, ruling that the institution can discriminate against gays, but allowing questions about publicly funded religion to go forward.

In a decision likely to reignite national debate over public funding of faith-based social services, Judge Charles Simpson III said state and federal laws barring religious discrimination do not protect gay employees at religious agencies.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children in April 2000 on behalf of Alicia Pedreira, who was fired from her position at the facility because of her sexual orientation.

On Monday, Simpson rejected the portion of the lawsuit challenging Pedreira's dismissal, concluding that discrimination against gays is legally permissible in Kentucky, but said questions raised in the lawsuit about public funding of religious activities can continue.

"This speaks volumes about the kind of activities we'll see if President Bush's faith-based initiative becomes law," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Religious groups will be able to pass the collection plate to taxpayers, but still be permitted to discriminate. That's morally wrong, and it should be illegal."

Lynn said one of the most controversial aspects of the White House faith-based plan is that it allows employment discrimination by publicly funded religious groups. When the House passed faith-based legislation last week, bitter controversy erupted over a Bush administration agreement with the Salvation Army to allow discrimination.

"I don't imagine most Americans want publicly funded job bias, whether it's against gays, divorced people, single moms or anyone whose conduct doesn't conform to religious dogma," added Lynn. "But that's what this decision and the Bush plan allow."

The dispute over state funding of the Baptist agency for troubled youth arose in October 1998, when the KBHC fired Pedreira, a family specialist, because she is a lesbian. Despite exemplary job performance, Pedreira was terminated because Baptist officials said homosexuality conflicts with Christian beliefs that are central to the agency's mission.

Pedreira was dismissed despite the fact that $13 million of the Baptist home's $19 million budget in 1999 came from the state government. Sources say only 5 percent of the religious agency's funding came from Baptist churches.

"This case is far from over," said AU Legal Director Ayesha Khan, co-counsel in the case. "The decision confirms our fears that certain forms of government-funded discrimination will be permitted, but it also bolsters our view that government funds cannot be provided to institutions in which religious and secular functions are inextricably intertwined."

Plaintiffs in the Pedreira v. Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children case include Pedreira, three members of the clergy and an African-American civil rights activist. A couple whose child was helped by Pedreira at the Kentucky children's home are also plaintiffs. The couple said Pedreira was the first counselor to make a difference in their son's life.

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

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