A Kentucky minister is threatening legal action against the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) after the agency revoked his status as a volunteer with LGBTQI youth at the Warren County Regional Juvenile Detention Center. David Wells of the Pleasant View Baptist Church in McQuady, KY, refused to comply with a DJJ policy that requires that those who identify as LGBTQI be treated with respect for their individual identities.
"[Wells] is represented by the anti-LGBT Liberty Counsel, which sent a letter to the DJJ on his behalf threatening legal action if the policy is not lifted and Wells reinstated. Wells refused to sign a statement promising to refrain from ever telling juvenile inmates that homosexuality was 'sinful.' Specifically, the policy requires that volunteers not use 'derogatory language in a manner that conveys bias towards or hatred of the LGBTQI community” and that they “shall not imply or tell LGBTQI juveniles that they are abnormal, deviant, sinful, or that they can or should change their sexual orientation or gender identity.'
Superintendent Gene Wade outlined how Wells could comply with the policy, explaining, 'You can give a scripture reference to the kids, and let them look it up, but you can’t read it in their hearing. You can’t say ‘sinful'; you can’t discuss sexual orientation — heterosexual or homosexual — period.' These terms were not satisfactory for Wells to continue his volunteer work at the detention center."
According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, LGBTQI "youths represent 5 percent to 7 percent of the nation’s overall youth population, but they compose 13 percent to 15 percent of those currently in the juvenile justice system." This over-representation means that these young people are more likely to face abuse and mistreatment inside the juvenile justice system, including those in official capacities using religion to shame them for their sexual identities. Wells, as a volunteer with the DJJ, was working in just such an official capacity.
In the letter to the DJJ, the Liberty Counsel makes it clear that if their demands for a “religious litmus test to the subject of homosexuality" are not met by the end of this week, they would pursue steps to prevent harm to the religious liberty of these DJJ volunteers.
Here's the thing: preaching to incarcerated LGBTQI youth that their identities are sinful is not religious liberty. It's punching down. Have a burning need to excoriate vulnerable populations with religious verse? You are free to do so from your pulpit. Mr. Wells and the Liberty Counsel need to understand that their right to free speech and belief does not give them the right to harm others.