Can faith-based child welfare organizations that receive state funds fire someone based on her sexual orientation? A Kentucky judge says yes, depending on where the money comes from.
Judge Charles Simpson of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky dismissed a lawsuit by Alecia Pedreira against Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children (KBHC) and several state officials. KBHC, now known as Sunrise Children’s Services, fired Pedreira in 1998 for being in a same-sex relationship, saying that relationship violated its Christian principles.
The nonprofit Sunrise Children’s Services operates 10 residential treatment facilities for allegedly abused and neglected children.
Pedreira claimed that Kentucky’s payments to KBHC violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against government establishment of religion.
In his March ruling, Simpson noted that KBHC was not funded by specific legislation. Rather, the state’s executive branch allocated the funding, which the organization receives from various state agencies for the care of children in state custody.
The ruling cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Hein v. The Freedom of Religion Foundation, which concluded that people cannot sue the executive branch of government over alleged violations of the constitutional separation of church and state. The decision said that only funding authorized by Congress is subject to such judicial review.
In 2001, the same judge concluded that Pedreira’s termination did not violate anti-discrimination laws because the action was based on her sexual orientation, not her religion.
– Alex Rush