Foundation Wins Second Lawsuit on Faith-Based Funding in its Montana "Parish Nursing" Case

(Madison, Wis.) The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which won the first lawsuit against faith-based funding under the Bush administration, won its second faith-based lawsuit today.

In a strongly-worded and thorough 32-page decision, U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard W. Anderson, U.S. District Court, District of Montana, Butte Division, ruled that the public-funded Montana Office of Rural Health ("MORH") impermissibly funded the Montana Faith Health Cooperative ("MFHC"). The direct funding activities violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as did the "close interrelationship" between a state and university program and and a "faith health cooperative," Anderson wrote.

"The Court finds that Defendants' direct and preferential funding of inherently and pervasively religious parish nursing programs was undertaken for the impermissible purpose, and has the impermissible effect, of favoring and advancing the integration of religion into the provision of secular health care services."

The office of rural health applied for funding under the Compassion Capital Fund Demonstration Program, and transferred an initial grant award of $614,555 to Montana State University-Bozeman to fund the "Montana Faith Health Demonstration Project" ("MFHDP"), with a similar level of funding provided in 2003.

David M. Young, Executive Director of the Montana Office of Rural Health, and a university employee, co-founded the faith-health cooperative, located in Young's office.

The court said it is an "inescapable" conclusion that Young was motivated not by the purpose of enhancing health care, but to advance and endorse religion. The Court agreed with the Foundation that the parish nursing was given "preferential treatment."

The faith health cooperative advertised itself with a brochure saying: "Faith + Health, The Healing Link!" Among its activities: two statewide faith-health summits opening and closing with prayers or blessings.

"Young and the MORH have clearly conveyed that the State endorses the faith-health connection. . . . This blatant public endorsement and preference of faith and religion over non-faith and irreligion runs afoul of the Establishment Clause," the judge wrote.

Anderson added: "The Montana Faith Health Cooperative has no secular purpose; its sole mission is to foster and promote faith-health partnerships across Montana. . . The MFHC is just another means by which Young has attempted to use the offices and funding of the MORE for the impermissible primary purpose of endorsing and promoting his personal belief in the advantages of faith-based healthcare."

The mission also "constitutes indoctrination" attributable to the state, "as to the supposed benefits of faith-based as opposed to purely secular health care."

"The undisputed facts of record show that the parish nursing and health ministry curriculum at the Carroll College Parish Nurse Center is replete with religious teachings and indoctrination. Its purpose is to educate and provide nurses who incorporate religion into the delivery of their services. . ."

Anderson noted that "parish nursing is inherently and pervasively religious; it is simply not possible to separate out its secular purpose of providing parish nursing care, steeped in concepts of Judeo-Christian theology. Religion permeates every aspect of the program; if one were to remove the religious overtones from any aspect of the program, the entire premise of the program would be completely undercut."

The record shows that Young, a religious man and "certified rural chaplain" often ended official email correspondence with biblical passages, and used his positions to support faith-based organizations as "fulfilling the mandate of Christ," Anderson wrote.

". . . Young acted with the clear primary purpose of promoting and endorsing the use and application of Judeo-Christian principles in the provision of otherwise secular health care," and "violated the Establishment Clause."

The Court ordered Young to "cease and withdraw direct MFHDP funding of inherently and pervasively religious parish nursing programs," no longer provide physical housing or subsidize directly or indirectly the faith health cooperative, or be involved in leadership and other promotion.

"This is a solid victory which should be considered precedent to stop this kind of faith-based funding," said Foundation president Anne Gaylor.

To see the decision online, click here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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