Court dismisses Baptist church-state case

WASHINGTON (RNS)—A federal court has dismissed a 10-year-old legal challenge brought by Kentucky taxpayers who questioned government funding of a Baptist social service agency.

The case involving Sunrise Children’s Services, formerly known as Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, initially centered on the dismissal of Alicia Pedreira, who the agency learned was a lesbian. In 2001, a federal judge in Louisville, Ky., dismissed her claims of religious discrimination.

Pedreira and other taxpayers continued the suit, claiming that public funds were used for services “infused with the teachings of the Baptist faith.”

Citing a recent Supreme Court decision, the same judge again ruled in favor of the agency, saying taxpayers did not demonstrate standing, or their right to sue the government.

In Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Supreme Court ruled taxpayers affiliated with an atheist group did not have standing to challenge President Bush’s faith-based initiative.

“We find that the claim of the taxpayers in this case is comparable to that in Hein,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Simpson III in a recent opinion.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union had represented the taxpayers in the case.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called the decision “a very sweeping reading of what I thought was a narrow ruling by the Supreme Court last year.”
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