Saturday, June 8, 2013

KY Won't Bankroll Religious Coercion

“Our mission is to provide care and hope for hurting families through Christ-centered ministries. I want this mission to permeate our agency like the very blood through our bodies. I want to provide Christian support to every child, staff member, and foster parent,” wrote William Smithwick, president of Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children in 1998.

Kentucky assigned needy children to the Baptist Home’s care and paid it $10-$15 million annually.
In May, as the result of a thirteen-year legal battle, Kentucky agreed to ban religious discrimination, coercion, and proselytization in the child care agencies it supports.

It established a system to monitor the agencies closely, especially the Kentucky Baptist Homes, now renamed Sunrise Children’s Services.

As defined in the settlement, “Proselytize or proselytization shall mean an affirmative attempt to induce a child to convert to a particular faith against the wishes or without the knowing and voluntary prior consent of the child.”

Sunrise did not agree to the settlement, and tried to block it.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky settled with taxpayer plaintiffs, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Kentucky.

In the course of the litigation, Kentucky hired a private contractor to monitor programs that served children, and the contractor provided abundant evidence of religious coercion.

The state cancelled the scrutiny in 2008, but it will now resume.

Under the settlement, the state must consider whether the children or their guardians object to placement in a sectarian facility and make reasonable efforts to provide alternatives.

Agencies contracting with the state must not discriminate against any child on the basis of religion or pressure children to take part in religious worship or instruction.

Agency personnel must not place religious symbols in children’s rooms without their consent. They may give religious materials only to children who request them.

Kentucky must prepare an anonymous exit survey for each child. Surveys must ask if the child experienced religious coercion, discrimination or proselytization during placement. Public officials must investigate any such allegations and take action.

Case workers must question children about the agency’s religious activities and accommodations and document the children’s responses. If a case worker thinks the agency has religiously coerced, discriminated, or proselytized, the worker must report the matter to appropriate officials, who must investigate and take action.

For seven years Kentucky officials must provide the surveys and caseworker reports from Sunrise’s clients to the plaintiffs’ counsel.

Kentucky officials must tell the plaintiffs’ counsel about the investigation of any complaint against any agency. If an agency becomes the subject of such an investigation, the plaintiffs’ lawyer should get the surveys and caseworker reports for that agency as it does for Sunrise.

This suit, Pedreira v. Kentucky Baptist Homes, did not begin as an effort to reform the Kentucky child-care system.

In 1998, Kentucky Baptist Homes fired Alice Pedreira because her “admitted homosexual lifestyle is contrary to Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children core values.”

When Americans United looked into her complaint, it uncovered a host of other church-state problems. The court ruled against Pedreira on her employment discrimination claim, but she remained the lead plaintiff in the suit. She now works for the Louisville city government as an educator on HIV prevention issues.

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