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Sunrise prevails

Kentucky governor relents and renews contract with faith-based foster care agency

A sign for Sunrise Children's Services in Mount Washington, Ky. Associated Press/Photo by Brandon Porter/Kentucky Today (file)

Sunrise prevails

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear backed down on Thursday, agreeing to renew the state’s license with the historic, Baptist-affiliated Sunrise Children’s Services to provide foster care.

Beshear, a Democrat, signaled in May that the state would not renew the contract when it ended on June 30 unless the agency signed off on nondiscrimination language that would override its religious objection to placing children with same-sex couples. Previous administrations allowed Sunrise to opt out of the provision. Beshear reversed his position only after the Supreme Court in late June ruled in favor of another foster care agency, Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia.

Sunrise garnered wide support in Kentucky. The Baptist State Convention, church leaders, legislators, and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron publicly opposed the governor’s attempt to force Sunrise out of the child placement field.

Sunrise President Dale Suttles pointed to the ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia to explain the change. A unanimous Supreme Court concluded that Philadelphia violated the century-old Catholic Social Services’ First Amendment religious liberty rights when it forced the agency to choose between its state contract and its beliefs about placing children with same-sex couples.

Ultimately, the contract renewal will protect children, Suttles said. “This will mean that children in Kentucky that have faced atrocities that we can’t imagine will have a provider like Sunrise that will open up its doors to them and give them treatment and hope,” he said. “And that’s all we’ve ever wanted to do—what we’ve done since 1869.”

Suttles said the uncertainty over the contract renewal has taxed the organization. But he said there was a silver lining.

“As Christians we are passive, because we want to be loving and want to be caring,” he said, pointing to some faith-based agencies that have closed or compromised in the face of such challenges. “But there comes a time when your constitutional rights are stepped upon, and you have got to take a stand for Jesus and stand up.”

Steve West

Steve is a reporter for WORLD. A graduate of World Journalism Institute, he worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor in Raleigh, N.C., where he resides with his wife.



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