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Sunrise CEO: Appeals court ruling a ‘win’

MOUNT WASHINGTON, Ky. (BP) — The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has sent a case involving a Kentucky Baptist children’s ministry back to federal district court for further review in a move the group’s chief executive officer describes as a win for the non-profit ministry that serves hundreds of abused and neglected kids.

“This case has been going on for 16 years and Sunrise is ready to turn the page,” Dale Suttles, chief executive officer of Sunrise Children’s Services, said. “We have 750 kids who have faced some of the most terrible things imaginable. We need to focus instead on making a difference in their lives.”

A three-judge Sixth Circuit panel, in a 2-1 decision, vacated a 2013 ruling singling out Sunrise for monitoring by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State Oct. 6. The panel questioned whether the 15-page settlement, agreed to by the plaintiffs and the state, but not Sunrise, was fair.

Sunrise attorney John Sheller argued in the appeal that the burden of extra scrutiny by the ACLU and Americans United imposes unique reputational harm.

The Sixth Circuit judges did not indicate whether the lower court’s ruling was fair to Sunrise.

“We feel good about the Sixth Circuit Court’s decision,” Suttles said. “Now we’ll wait to see how the district court handles its decision.”

Since 2000, Sunrise has been embroiled in a lawsuit surrounding its firing of a homosexual employee. See related Baptist Press story. In the case, the state was accused of violating the Constitution by paying Sunrise, a Kentucky Baptist foster care agency, to provide services for children. A 2013 agreement required the monitoring of Sunrise and its affiliates to ensure children were not coerced into participating in religious activity or converted to a new religion.

Sunrise objected to the settlement.

Sunrise has operated as a nonprofit, Christ-centered ministry for abused and neglected children in Kentucky since 1869 and is the state’s largest provider of foster care, residential, therapeutic treatment and community-based services statewide.