UM Children's Home Makes Statement
UMCH LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT
For the past 17 months, the United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH) in Decatur has been involved in a lawsuit. There were two key plaintiffs. One was a former employee, fired because she was lesbian. The second was an individual who was refused employment because he was not Christian. We were co-defendants along with the State of Georgia. The key issues revolved around the question of whether, as a church-related agency, we can receive state funds for the services that we provide for children in the custody of the state. The state signs a contract with us and pays us a per diem for each child who is referred to our care from the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) or from the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The per diem provides about 50% of the cost of supporting these state children on campus, and the total state payments for these children make up about 57% of our total operating income.
During the first week in October the state came to a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs. We were not consulted in this process and had no say in the terms of the settlement agreement. The main reason the state was willing to settle was that part of the basis of the lawsuit was an amendment to the Georgia state constitution called the Blaine Amendment. This amendment was enacted in Georgia and 36 other states in the 19th century as an anti-Catholic law designed to keep state funds from going to Catholic parochial schools. Arguably, the amendment also applies more broadly to any church related agency or program – children’s homes, schools, hospitals, urban programs, and more. For many years, the state has construed the Blaine Amendment narrowly and has continued to contract with faith-based programs like UMCH. However, this lawsuit brought the issue to prominence and resulted in a settlement that preserves the state's right to contract with faith-based service providers.
In their settlement the state agreed - without our input - to draw a new contract to be used with all childcare service providers in the state. This includes the contracts signed when they send us children for our care. There are a number of provisions in this contract that relate to religious life. Two provisions are especially central and will require us to change our current policies if we continue to accept state children.
First, traditionally we have hired only Christians. Under the new contracts with the state we can no longer do this. If we choose to continue to take state children we cannot discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion, except with respect to the hiring or appointment of any positions serving a primarily spiritual, ministerial, or religious purpose. Second, we have taken children who do not claim any religious faith, or who are Christian, to United Methodist churches on Sunday mornings. If we choose to be in ministry to state children we cannot require the children to go to church or participate in religious activities as a condition of residing at the Home. While we will be permitted to take children to church if they want to go, we cannot require it and will be obligated to offer a non-religious alternative to worship.
We will not be required to definitively say that we will continue to care for children in state custody until we read the new state contracts. The creation and communication of these contracts by the state could take up to twelve months. If we and other faith-based agencies like us refuse to accept state children this means these children and youth may remain in home situations that are dangerous or damaging to them because the state has no other place to put them, may be out on the streets, or may go to completely secular agencies with no religious life at all.
During the last week in October UMCH, by vote of its board of trustees, reached a separate settlement agreement with the plaintiffs, even though the agency was within its legal rights in its personnel policies and procedures. Continuation of the lawsuit would have resulted in expenditure of substantial resources that otherwise would be used in ministry to children and families. The settlement between UMCH and the plaintiffs does not require us to do anything substantially different in policies or programs. It reaffirms our commitment to professional care for all children, renewing our commitment to treating all children with sensitivity and love. In relation to staff and volunteers, the agreement reaffirms our policies of non-discrimination and our commitment to training our staff using professional standards and practices in relating to all children. The United Methodist Children’s Home has historically provided quality care and services to thousands of children and families. UMCH and other faith-based agencies like us provide crucial services to children and families who look to the state for survival.http://www.ngumc.org/adobe/umchletter.pdf
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