(Madison, Wis.) The national Freedom From Religion Foundation, a freethought association working to keep church and state separate, filed a federal lawsuit on April 21 against the Department of Education's massive federal funding of Alaska Christian College in Soldotna, Alaska.
The 3-year-old unaccredited "college" is affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska. It offers no academic classes, such as math or English, or degrees. It enrolls only 37 students who wish to "brush up on their Biblical knowledge," go into the ministry, or "learn what it means to become a fully committed follower of Jesus Christ."
The lawsuit is challenging the most recent allotment of federal dollars to the school, $435,000 allocated in the 2005 omnibus funding bill passed in late November, at the request of Alaska's only House member, Rep. Don Young. Half of the bible school's funding to date has been public, with the school receiving more than $1 million in aid, amounting to an unprecedented $20,000 per student.
Its website identifies the school as "a Bible centered college," where students "study and apply God's Word" and "serve Christ." In website advice to students about supplies to bring, "Bible" is at the top of the list.
Alaska Christian College is the only unaccredited, nondegree school in the nation that got money in 2004 from the federal Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education.
The Juneau Empire editorialized (Dec. 28, 2004) against the "astonishing amount of public money [lavished] on a tiny, brand-new religious school."
"Alaska's congressional delegation might just as well have put a $1 million check in the church collection plate," the newspaper editorialized.
First-year students who complete the program receive a "Certificate of Biblical Studies." Returning students "partnering with the neighboring community school" can receive a "Certificate of Biblical and General Studies." The school has only applied for accreditation with a biblical association, for which it would not be eligible before 2007.
In previous federal funding, $200,000 received with the help of Alaska U.S. Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski in 2004 paid for the New Hope Counseling Center.
Rep. Young has gotten the school a previous $400, 000 in tax funds, of which $250,000 went to fund salaries for the five faculty members, $75,000 was used for scholarships, and the rest went for student recruitment and other activities.
The additional funding last November drew criticism from Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington, DC, watchdog group.
In a notice last July when the college sought "a new full-time director of admissions," Alaska Christian College president said: "The job has two main responsibilities. Recruit 30 students each year and love them when they arrive."
The school appears to be missionarizing Native Alaskans. Ninety percent of its student population is Native.
Both Sens. Murkowski and Stevens have paid personal visits to the bible college.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, with more than 5,500 members nationwide and members in every state, has taken and won several recent lawsuits challenging faith-based funding.
The lawsuit, filed in the courtroom of Judge John Shabaz, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin, is Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., Anne Nicol Gaylor, Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker v. Margaret Spellings, Secretary of the Department of Education, Case No. O5C-0247-S.