Federal Judge Dismisses ACLU’s Lawsuit Against Baptist Home

Last week, federal judge Charles R. Simpson, III, dismissed an ACLU lawsuit against a Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children (recently renamed Sunrise Children's Services) following an 8-year legal battle.  The case began when Alicia Pedreira, a seven month employee, sued the Home, which provides social services for at-risk children, after she was terminated for an openly proclaimed lesbian lifestyle.  The reason for the termination was that her lifestyle was contrary to the Home's Christian mission and values.

Pedreira's fist lawsuit, filed in 2000, claimed her firing was an act of religious discrimination.  However, the court rejected that claim in 2001, but allowed her and several other taxpayers represented by the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State to pursue a claim under the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, namely, the Home was using government funds to promote religion.

This past week, however, relying on the U.S Supreme Court's  2007 Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation decision,  Judge Simpson  dismissed the new claim as well, on the grounds that taxpayers do not have standing to sue over executive branch funding of faith-based agencies.   An attorney for plaintiffs indicated they will appeal Judge Simpson's ruling. 

Attorneys with the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law center based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, began providing legal assistance to Baptist Home's principle attorney John Sheller, soon after the ACLU's lawsuit was filed in 2000. 

Pat Gillen, one of the Thomas More Law Center attorneys who worked on the case, observed,  "Sunrise Children's Services has the same right to receive reimbursement to provide help to the children of Kentucky as any other social services provider." Gillen currently serves as a visiting professor at Ave Maria School of Law.  

In his decision dismissing the case, Judge Simpson found that Kentucky legislators merely made appropriations for government funding, but executive agencies that oversee social services for children and families actually made the decision to devote partial funding to the home.

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