The United Methodist Children’s Home is located in Decatur, Georgia. It receives 40% of its funding from the State of Georgia. The Home will not hire non-Christians or gays, and sends gay youth in its care to dangerous "intervention" programs designed to "change" their sexual orientation.
Readers of this column may recall a discussion of litigation involving the Kentucky Baptist Children’s Home. The Children’s Home had fired a youth counselor solely because she was gay; they justified the firing by explaining that "the gay lifestyle" was inconsistent with their theological beliefs. Ordinarily, this would not have given rise to a lawsuit-even in those few states that extend civil rights protections to gays and lesbians, religious organizations are exempt from civil rights laws. But the Home was funded by the state of Kentucky. Some $12 million of its $15 million dollar annual budget came from state tax dollars. The lawsuit challenged the propriety of using tax dollars to discriminate.
The Kentucky case is still being litigated: now we have an even more egregious case coming out of Georgia.
The United Methodist Children’s Home is located in Decatur, Georgia. It receives 40% of its funding from the State of Georgia. The Home will not hire non-Christians or gays, and sends gay youth in its care to dangerous "intervention" programs designed to "change" their sexual orientation. The Complaint filed by Lambda Legal on behalf of a variety of Plaintiffs alleges:
· Aimee Bellmore, who holds a masters degree in counseling, was hired to supervise staff and counsel residents in seven of the Home’s "cottages." She received very positive reviews from her superiors, and was told she would be promoted. Instead, officials of the Home discovered that she was gay, and she was fired.
· Thomas Yorker has a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University, and a Masters and PhD in psychology from Georgia State. Over a twenty-year period, he has chaired a number of prestigious professional organizations, taught at Emory University, and maintained a private practice. When he responded to the Home’s ad for a therapist, he was asked to identify his religion. When the interviewer saw that he was Jewish, she told him that the Home "doesn’t hire Jews," and terminated the interview. She later told another employee that she usually "trashed" applications with Jewish-sounding names, but she hadn’t thought that Yorker sounded Jewish.
Bellmore and Yorker are joined in the lawsuit by several academics and clergy who believe, in the words of the Complaint, that "individuals and organizations motivated by diverse religious faiths play an important role in serving others in need" and that it is appropriate to "respect the right of each religious denomination to adhere to its religious beliefs." But the Plaintiffs "object to the use of government monies to fund a sectarian institution’s inculcation of particular religious tenets in youth and its employment practices that discriminate on the basis of religion."
That objection is at the heart of the controversy. In a diverse society, we are bound to respect the right of others to hold beliefs with which we profoundly disagree. But it is constitutionally improper to fund actions taken in pursuance of such beliefs, especially when the actions in question are contrary to norms of professional treatment.
There are important lessons to be learned here.
· Bigots are indiscriminate. The gay community has a stake in fighting anti-Semitism and racism, just as Jews and blacks have a stake in combating homophobia. Recall the words of the Lutheran priest in Nazi Germany who reportedly said "When they came for the Jews, I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t Jewish. When they came for the trade-unionists, I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade-unionist. When they came for the Catholics, I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t Catholic. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak up." It is a lesson worth revisiting-in a society where certain people are marginalized and devalued, no one is truly safe.
· We need to revisit the question of the proper role of government. The Bush Administration is spending our tax dollars to promote marriage and celibacy (not to mention $8000 to cover the breast on the statue of Lady Justice). It proposes to fund programs like Teen Challenge and Prison Ministries, where acceptance of a particular religious dogma is the program. These are not the proper ends of civil government in a secular state.
It is past time to remind the happy theocrats in Washington and Georgia that our constitution prohibits the establishment of religion. At the very least, that means government cannot use my tax dollars to discriminate against people who don’t accept the dictates of someone else’s religion.