Baptist agency can fire lesbian, says federal judge
In what will certainly be a much-cited case in the debate over charitable choice legislation, a federal judge in Louisville, Kentucky, ruled that Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children (KBHC) was allowed to fire a lesbian social worker—even though KBHC receives state funds. Alicia Pedreira brought suit against the agency, alleging religious discrimination. But Judge Charles R. Simpson III said that because KBHC cares about actions, not beliefs, her complaint was moot. "The code of conduct, although requiring behavior which is consistent with KBHC's values, leaves the religious freedoms of employees and potential employees unfettered," he wrote. "The civil rights statutes protect religious freedom, not personal lifestyle choices. There is no religious discrimination in an employment policy which does not require and does not inhibit the practice of or belief in any faith." (The decision is only available in Word Perfect format, but the docket is available in HTML form.)

Another part of Pedreira's lawsuit, focusing on whether government funds to KBHC violate the First Amendment, was allowed to continue. More than half of KBHC's $19 million annual budget reportedly comes from the state.

The ACLU, which represented Pedreira, is furious. "There can now be no question that if the Bush initiative is passed, the result will be government-funded discrimination," said legislative counsel Christopher E. Anders. "While we strongly disagree with its finding, the court has confirmed our worst fears."

As Weblog was writing this morning, KBHC still hadn't updated its Web site, but Bill Smithwick, the agency's president, told The Boston Globe he was pleased with the decision. "We base our whole ministry and services on traditional family values," he said, "and we are uncompromising that we are going to be who we are and have been since 1869."

Federal appeals court upholds Virginia schools' moment of silence
A Virginia law requiring public schools to begin each day with one minute of silence is not a violation of the First Amendment, a panel from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision yesterday. "in establishing a minute of silence, during which students may choose to pray or to meditate in a silent and nonthreatening manner, Virginia has introduced at most a minor and nonintrusive accommodation of religion that does not establish religion," Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote for the majority (HTML | PDF). "By providing this moment of silence, the State makes no endorsement of religion. … There is simply no evidence to indicate that Virginia has promoted any religion or promoted religion over nonreligion. Recognizing that the Religion Clauses of the Constitution are intended to protect religious liberty, Virginia's minute of silence is no more than a modest step in that direction."

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The dissenting judge, Robert King, agreed with the ACLU's argument that the mandatory silence promoted religion. "By mandating a 'minute of silence' at the start of each school day, the Commonwealth has engaged in a thinly veiled attempt to reintroduce state-sanctioned prayer into its schools," he wrote. "Although the majority characterizes it otherwise, the 'minute of silence' mandated by the Virginia statute is, like the Trojan Horse, a hollow guise. But the citizens of Virginia have naught to fear from Greek soldiers. Instead, the Commonwealth bears its 'gift' as a means of invading … the hearts and minds of Virginia schoolchildren in an effort to once more usher state-sponsored religion into public schools." The ACLU has not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling.

Black clergy being fired for associating with Moon's Unification Church
It seems that Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo isn't the only one in trouble for getting too cozy with Sun Myung Moon. The Washington Post reports, "as 35 black ministers, most of them at churches in the South, have been voted out of office by church boards that object to any affiliation with Moon." A press conference is scheduled later today to discuss the report.

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