A law firm is taking up the case of a youth services agency worker in Tampa, Fla., who was dismissed from his job after some of the juvenile offenders with whom he worked also went to his church.
Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of the Liberty University school of law, said such a policy banning such attendance must not be allowed to stand.
“This policy requires youth workers to either leave church or ban juvenile offenders and their family members from attending any church-sponsored event, no matter the size or location of the activity. Must a pastor or church member who is also a youth worker exit the back door when a juvenile offender enters the front door? Under this policy, the answer is yes. This policy is too broad to withstand a legal challenge,” he said.
Liberty Counsel’s lawsuit is over the dismissal of Dennis Hughes and names as a defendant the youth services agency that terminated him when he refused to stop allowing troubled teens in its program to attend his church and its activities.
Also named in the lawsuit is the agency that manages the program and “orchestrated” his dismissal, the University Area Community Development Corp., officials said.
Hughes was a case manager for Bay Area Youth Service in the Prodigy Cultural Arts Program, which provides case management services for juvenile offenders. If a juvenile completes the program, the state’s criminal charges in the case are dropped, officials said.
Since BAYS gets all of its revenue from the state of Florida, it operates as an arm of the state.
“But Florida has no law forbidding church leaders from attending functions with juvenile offenders in state programs,” the law firm said.
Hughes’ religious work had not raised an objection from BAYS for a number of years. During his free time he first served as youth pastor, then as assistant pastor, at Calvary Chapel of Tampa.
Then some juveniles under his supervision voluntarily attended church services and sports activities sponsored by the church.
But when one event was held at the University Area Community Center Complex. UACDC, which also manages the community center, objected to the religious content of the Calvary Chapel youth activities, banned the activities from the center and insisted Hughes end his participation.
Since UACDC also funds and manages the Prodigy program, BAYS adopted a policy that juveniles in the program could not attend any event where Hughes was present, even though no problems had ever arisen with the juveniles because of the church events.
BAYS then terminated Hughes, although he had excellent performance reviews, only because he would not agree to either stop attending his church or prohibit juveniles in the program from attending.