Ky. religious funding suit headed to appeals court

Posted on 09 Mar 2009 at 5:31pm
By Associated Press

9-year-old lawsuit claims program using federal funds fired lesbian

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Attorneys in a case involving a Kentucky Baptist children’s program will appear before a federal appeals court this week to argue about the role of government funding for faith-based institutions.

The nine-year-old lawsuit alleges that the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children has used public dollars to indoctrinate children and fired a lesbian employee for religious reasons.

The state and the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children have disputed the claims. The Courier-Journal in Louisville reports that the agency has received more than $100 million in state funding and is the largest private provider of residential children’s services in the state.

A federal judge in Louisville dismissed the case last year after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that narrowed taxpayers’ rights to sue over allegations of state-sponsored religion.

The plaintiffs, who include the fired employee and a group of taxpayers, want the appeals court to reverse the district judge’s dismissal, saying the Supreme Court ruling shouldn’t apply to their case.

The Baptist agency fired social worker Alicia Pedreira in 1998 upon learning she was a lesbian. In 2000, she filed suit claiming religious discrimination.

Oral arguments are set for Wednesday, March 11 at the appeals court in Cincinnati.

Pedreira and the group of taxpayers have claimed in the suit that the state was wrongly financing religion. They cited state records quoting children in the Baptist homes as saying they were required to pray and attend church and felt "pressured into giving up my religion" and "to become Christian."

The Baptist homes, in a legal brief, denies that religion was its motive for a policy forbidding employees from having any sexual relationship outside of marriage.

Mathew Staver, an attorney who has argued before the 6th Circuit in favor of public displays that include the Ten Commandments, said he’s hopeful the court will uphold the funding.

Staver cited a ruling from that court in 2005 upholding a Mercer County, Ky., courthouse display that included the Ten Commandments.

The opinion said a "reasonable person is not a hyper-sensitive plaintiff" but "appreciates the role religion has played in governmental institutions."

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