July 12, 2014

Judge Approves Settlement in Baptist Children’s Home Case

                                  ©2014 Religion News Service

A federal judge has approved a settlement in a
14-year legal battle over government funding of Baptist homes for children in

The lawsuit started in 2000 when Sunrise
Children’s Services fired a staffer, Alicia Pedreira, after discovering she was
a lesbian. The agency, formerly known as Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children,
also was sued by Pedreira and other taxpayers who claimed government money was
being used for services “infused with the teachings of the Baptist faith.”

Pedreira’s employment discrimination claims
were dismissed in the courts, but in 2009 the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
permitted the portion of the suit alleging that state-funded activities
advanced religion to continue.

“Children will be protected against any kind of
religious coercion, discrimination or proselytization in child care placement
centers funded by the state,” said Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director
of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, of the June 30

“Importantly, the agreement does not indicate
there were any Establishment Clause violations by the Commonwealth or Sunrise,”
said U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Simpson III of Louisville, who called
the case a “long and winding road.”

Sunrise was not a party to the settlement but
unsuccessfully tried to halt the agreement between the plaintiffs and the
state. Under the agreement, Kentucky officials must commit to ensuring that
religious preferences of children in their care are respected. The judge said
the agreement, which changes the way the state works with child service
providers, did not have to satisfy Sunrise.

Sunrise officials could not be reached for
comment, but John Sheller, an attorney for Sunrise, told the Associated Press that Sunrise intends to
appeal Simpson’s decision.

Luchenister said he hopes the case, the oldest
active lawsuit involving his Washington-based watchdog group, will soon
conclude. “We’re optimistic that we’re going to defeat the appeal,” he