The national Freedom From Religion Foundation's federal lawsuit against the University of Minnesota, challenging the University's membership in a faith/health consortium" and sponsorship of a "faith/health leadership" course, has ended in complete victory.
The University of Minnesota notified the Freedom From Religion Foundation on September 2 that it has agreed not to offer the program under litigation. The courses were scheduled, but never taught.
In an earlier response to the Foundation's lawsuit, the University had withdrawn from the Minnesota Faith/ Health Consortium on July 5, and suggested that satisfied the Foundation's concerns.
The Foundation refused to drop its lawsuit, contending that the proposed, pervasively religious three-course program to train professionals to be "faith/health leaders" belongs at a seminary, not a public university.
A second letter from University of Minnesota counsel in September, capitulating to the second of the Foundation's legal demands, ended the lawsuit without trial.
The Faith/Health Clinical Leadership program was the centerpiece of the Minnesota Faith/Health Consortium. The University promoted the classes as a national model for training health providers and seminarians together for the first time. The paper trail detailing the religious agenda was extensive. (See Sept 05 issue.)
"We have ended a serious First Amendment violation--a partnership between a public university and religious organizations to promote religion to students and patients," noted Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president.
"We are grateful to the seven Minnesota residents who agreed to sign on as taxpayer plaintiffs, making our lawsuit possible," added Gaylor. They are: Bruce and Jean Christensen, Tom Stavros, Sybille Redmond, William Van Druten, and Richard and LaGretta Dean.
Gaylor noted that the Foundation's Minnesota legal victory builds on the Foundation's October 2004 court victory in Montana against "parish nursing." 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 impermissibly funded the Montana Faith Health Cooperative.
The Foundation is looking into similar unconstitutional "faith-based" collaborations in other states.
This is the Foundation's fourth legal win against "the faith-based initiative."
The Foundation was the first litigant in the country to win a settled lawsuit against the faith-based initiative, in January 2002, when it successfully challenged hundreds of thousands of federal dollars being funneled to Faith Works, a Milwaukee agency whose mission was to lead "homeless addicts to Christ."
Following its October 2004 victory in federal court against "parish nursing" in Montana, the Foundation made news in January 2005, when it became the first group to force Health and Human Services to vacate funding of a faith-based group, MentorKids, of Phoenix. The Chuck Colson prison ministry offshoot works only with fundamentalist Christian, church-going volunteers.
The Minnesota legal complaint, Freedom From Religion Foundation et al. v. Dr. Robert Bruininks, et al., Civil No. 05-638 JNE/SRN, is online.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.