Confusion, disagreement between state and Sunrise
By BRANDON PORTER, Kentucky today
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Contract negotiations between the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and one of Kentucky’s largest childcare providers have taken a confusing step forward. Sunrise Children’s Services is seeking accommodation from the Firm because it claims the proposed contract would cause them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs.
The two organizations exchanged letters, but Sunrise attorney John O. Sheller believes the Cabinet is asking them to follow a federal policy that was repealed under the Trump administration.
In a letter dated May 19, FSCAA General Counsel Wesley Dukes told Sunrise: “The Cabinet is of the opinion that the wording of the contract you are requesting does not comply with the requirements imposed by the Ministry. of United States Health and Human Services. Dukes referred to part of an executive order from the president. Barack Obama, 45 CFR 75,300 in the letter.
Dukes ordered Sunrise to seek a waiver of the provision that “prohibits discrimination against otherwise eligible persons.” The factors listed in the regulation include age, disability, race, color, national origin, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Sunrise is an agency of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Dale Suttles, president of Sunrise, says the agency receives any child it is qualified to help, even if the child identifies as LGBTQ.
The provision cited by Dukes also refers to the hiring practices and recruitment and placement practices of foster parents, in addition to child placement practices, areas where Sunrise is attractive.
Sheller believes the organization’s First Amendment rights should be protected. Sunrise is guided by her deeply held religious beliefs to seek out opposite sex couples to serve as adoptive parents. Sheller says the agency refers same-sex couples to the state or other organizations capable of working with them. Sunrise says they are also guided by these beliefs in their hiring practices.
Sheller thinks federal law is on Sunrise’s side.
In a May 20 letter to Cabinet, Sheller wrote: “On November 19, 2019, HHS issued a non-application notice of non-discrimination language.” He adds, “Then on January 12, 2021, the HHS released a final rule removing non-discrimination language.” Sheller says that action officially invalidated the settlement.
He writes that, according to regulatory history, the regulation “should not be applied to Sunrise”.
Sheller says Sunrise’s legal representatives were involved in the long-term appeal of the requirement. “By the way, some of Sunrise’s attorneys were part of a litigation team that challenged the Obama version of 75,300 in court and ultimately dismissed the lawsuit after HHS vowed to change the rule, which like we just said, finally did. We know what we’re talking about, ”Sheller wrote.
“What could explain the Cabinet’s effort to impose an invalid and obsolete rule against Sunrise other than a rank animosity against him for his sincere religious beliefs?” asked Sheller.
The Cabinet did not respond to Sunrise’s letter.
Sunrise was set for June 30 to sign a new contract or risk losing state funding and the transition of hundreds of children to its foster homes and residential treatment centers.