Billy Graham group defends itself against lawsuit

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said Wednesday it never discriminated against a black employee and argued her lawsuit should be dismissed because it would mark interference in the internal workings of a religious organization.

Attorneys for the association argued that former employee Kimberly McCallum failed to contend that the job she lost remained open or was given to another person ? often a key to discrimination cases. They also said churches have autonomy that bars the courts from interfering in its organization’s internal affairs.

“Such an inquiry by the courts would be an impermissible entanglement into the affairs of a religious organization,” the attorneys wrote in their motion to dismiss the case that was released Wednesday.

McCallum, who is from Charlotte, claims she was abruptly fired in 2007 after complaining that the organization was not reaching out to black churches. She argued that a list of 635 prospective church partners had only three memberships that were primarily black, and McCallum said it was apparent that black churches were excluded from the document.

She tried to get other jobs at the association but was blocked from other positions and had a later job offer revoked, according to the complaint. The lawsuit seeks a job reinstatement, back pay and damages for what she describes as discrimination because of her race.

The association, founded by Billy Graham in 1950 and with main offices in Charlotte, is now led by Graham’s son, Franklin. Religion observers say the group has long tried to expand its diversity, and officials at the association pointed out that two prominent black pastors from the Minneapolis area recently led an association event there.

Association spokesman Mark DeMoss said it was “preposterous” to claim that the organization would deliberately bypass African-American participation.

Graham’s ministry began when segregation was still accepted, though he later integrated his crusades. The aging evangelist, now 90, has faced a range of health problems in recent years and spends most of his days at a mountainside home in western North Carolina.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.