Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to terminate or investigate nine federal grants awarded to faith-based groups that proselytize and that discriminate in hiring.
In the 2008 fiscal year, Congress approved earmarks that directed the U.S. Department of Justice to award grants to these religious organizations. The Department of Justice, under the Bush administration, approved the constitutionally dubious funding without conducting anything more than a cursory review.
Now Americans United, in a letter to Holder, has asked for that Bush-era decision to be reversed.
“In providing these grants, the U.S. Department of Justice is unconstitutionally aiding religion,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United’s executive director. “There’s no reason why organizations that evangelize or that discriminate in hiring on religious grounds should ever receive a penny from the government, let alone millions of dollars.”
Added AU Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser, “The Bush administration approved these grants, paying no heed to their grave constitutional defects. I hope that the Obama administration discontinues this unlawful funding of religion and reviews future proposed grants to faith-based institutions much more carefully.”
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After careful investigation, AU has determined that the following grants should be terminated entirely:
-- Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, Detroit, Mich., ($490,000 Juvenile Justice Grant) obtained the public funding to run an eight-weekend “challenge course” for at-risk youth. In its grant application, the Mission stated that it would incorporate Bible studies in the course, and the Mission’s Web site shows that proselytizing is integral to Mission programs. The Mission also discriminates in hiring, requiring as a qualification “[a] profession of personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.”
-- Albany Teen Challenge, Albany, N.Y., ($47,000 Juvenile Justice Grant) obtained the federal grant to run several drug-prevention programs, including “Rock the Block,” during which the “word of God is shared,” “[a]n altar call is given, Bibles are provided, and salvation cards are distributed.” The ministry has a policy of hiring only Christians and obtained part of the funding to pay salaries of staff responsible for implementing “Rock the Block.”
-- Central Indiana Teen Challenge, Lebanon, Ind., ($94,000 Juvenile Justice Grant) obtained the funding for its “Girl’s Transition to Education and Community Program.” The group states that its mission is to “giv[e] young girls a second chance… through God’s transforming grace” and “dedicated pastoral counseling.” According to the group’s Web site, it achieves this mission “[t]hrough consistent Bible study, prayer and personal accountability” and “students are encouraged to apply the truths of God’s Word to their thoughts and actions in everyday life.”
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-- Minnesota Teen Challenge, Minneapolis, Minn., ($235,000 Juvenile Justice Grant) obtained the grant to expand its “Know the Truth” drug-prevention program. As part of the program, pre-teen participants hear personal stories from graduates of Teen Challenge’s residential drug treatment program. That program requires church attendance and participation in daily devotionals, Bible reading and prayer, and its graduates tell “Know the Truth” participants how they beat addiction through religious awakening. Teen Challenge also discriminates on the basis of religion in hiring staff for the “Know the Truth” program.
-- New Hope Academy Teen Challenge, Factoryville, Pa. ($210,000 Byrne Grant), which calls itself “a Christian boarding school,” obtained its grant to expand its existing residential addiction-treatment program. The Academy’s students must attend several church services during the week. The Academy’s application form explains that “[s]tudents participate in a tightly integrated personal spiritual growth development program,” and that “they find, through life in Christ, the changing power that gives the ability to cope.” The Academy instructs its students using courses developed by Accelerated Christian Education, which aims to help children “grow to see life from God’s point of view” by integrating “Scripture memory” in its courses.
AU’s letter also asks that the following grants be discontinued, unless a DOJ investigation determines that the grants can be rendered lawful through the addition of strict safeguards against use of the funds to support religion:
-- Denver Rescue Mission, Denver, Colo., ($282,000 Byrne Grant) obtained the grant to fund the Strategic Transitional Assistance and Response (STAR) program, which is operated at a building called “The Crossing,” the group’s transitional housing facility. The group’s Web site states, “At The Crossing, families in our [STAR] program are given an opportunity to experience affordable, clean, and safe temporary housing as we minister to them and help them take the final steps toward self-sufficiency and permanent housing.” Not only will grant funds support the STAR program itself, but they will also pay for building upgrades that may support other religious programming at The Crossing.
-- Straight Ahead Ministries, Boston, Mass., ($94,000 Juvenile Justice Grant) has a “vision” to “create an international movement whereby every juvenile offender has the opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel and grow in his or her relationship with Jesus Christ.” The grant was obtained for the “Ready4Work project,” a community re-entry program for detained or incarcerated youths. The organization’s volunteers are trained in teaching Bible studies to incarcerated juveniles, and there are no safeguards ensuring that “Ready4Work” volunteers will be trained any differently.
-- World Impact St. Louis, St. Louis, Mo. ($282,000 Juvenile Justice Grant), whose mission is to “reach the unchurched urban poor” with “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” provides youth programming that involves “daily Bible lessons” and “Bible clubs.” A “Junior High Program” funded by the grant appears to be the same program that, according to the group’s Web site, “helped lead six young men to Christ.” The grant is also funding a program for elementary-school students, as well as a “Tutoring Program.”
-- Grace College, Winona Lake, Ind., ($1,128,000 Byrne Grant) designated some of its grant funds for remodeling of its Orthopaedic Capital Center—a 56,000-square-foot facility on Grace’s campus that the college also uses for religious activities. According to its Web site, “Grace College is an evangelical Christian community of higher education” that “wants students to make fruitful contact with God’s Word.” The Orthopaedic Capital Center is also the home of the college’s chapel.
The AU letter was drafted by AU Madison Fellow Jef Klazen, under the direction of AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Luchenitser.