A secular hospital sued by the city of St. Petersburg, Fla., for violating the separation of church and state has offered to buy the city land it sits on for $47 million during the next 47 years.
The hospital, 300-bed Bayfront Medical Center, made its offer late last month as part of a proposed settlement to resolve a federal lawsuit the city filed against the hospital in March.
The lawsuit alleges that Bayfront's participation in an alliance of eight Tampa Bay, Fla.-area hospitals, including Roman Catholic facilities, violates the U.S. Constitution and the hospital's lease with the city because Bayfront, in deference to its Catholic partners, has stopped performing elective abortions (April 10, p. 40).
At deadline, the city hadn't responded to Bayfront's offer.
St. Petersburg City Council members have met in closed session to talk about the proposal with city lawyers and were scheduled to meet again in closed session late last week.
Sue Brody, Bayfront's president and chief executive officer, said she is hopeful the city will accept.
"We very much do need to settle this," she said.
If the sale of the land is approved, Bayfront, in its proposal, promises to give the city a covenant pledging that the land will always be the site of a secular, not-for-profit hospital.
The settlement also says the joint operating agreement for hospitals in the alliance, known as the BayCare Health System, was amended in June "to make it 100% clear" that Catholic ethical and religious rules "do not apply to Bayfront."
However, the proposal says Bayfront still may agree to further modify its services in deference to its religious partners to keep them from running afoul of Catholic Church rules. Bayfront can be drummed out of the alliance or opt out on its own if it refuses to further modify its services.
Even if the city accepts Bayfront's proposal, it won't resolve another lawsuit the hospital is facing.
"Absolutely not," said Marcia Cohen, a St. Petersburg civil rights attorney representing several national advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, that sued the city, Bayfront and the alliance of hospitals in August (Aug. 21, p. 16).
Like the city, the civil rights groups have alleged that Bayfront's arrangement violates the separation of church and state.