October 06, 1997

Lawsuit filed for nurse over AIDS case reprimand

HARTFORD, Conn. (Reuter) - A federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Connecticut nurse Monday, saying she was unfairly punished for sharing her Christian beliefs with a patient dying of AIDS.

Jo Ann Knight, a nurse consultant for the Connecticut Department of Public Health, said state officials violated her free speech rights after she showed ``love and compassion'' to the patient.

The Virginia-based American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed the lawsuit on Knight's behalf against the Connecticut Department of Public Health. Also named as a defendant was the department's commissioner, Stephen Harriman.

The suit sought an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages, as well as payment of lost wages to Knight.

The dispute stemmed from a visit by Knight to the home of an AIDS patient near New Haven, Conn., on Oct. 1, 1996.

The ACLJ said the patient and his companion said they were homosexuals and lacked emotional support from friends and relatives and were concerned about the future. Knight shared with them her Christian beliefs about salvation, it added.

Knight also shared ``in a loving and compassionate manner'' her Christian belief that homosexuality was not an acceptable lifestyle, the ACLJ said. Both men told her of their religious beliefs and thanked her and said good afternoon, it added.

Knight was reprimanded in January when the department said it suspended her for four weeks without pay ``for misconduct in your dealings with a homosexual couple,'' the ACLJ said.

The penalty was later modified to a two-week suspension and a restriction barring her from visiting patients at home.

The ACLJ specializes in cases it calls ``pro-family'' and ''pro-life.''