FFRF Wins Solid Legal Precedent

The University of Minnesota has withdrawn from the Minnesota Faith Health Consortium, following a federal lawsuit challenging the membership, filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on March 25.

The University announced its withdrawal in early July.

According to defendant Frank B. Cerra, Senior Vice President of Health Services, the consortium was established to advance faith health initiatives.”

“We’re pleased the University has dropped its affiliation with this religious consortium,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison, Wis.-based Foundation.

“But its proposed three-course program to train professionals to be ‘faith/health leaders’ clearly belongs at a seminary, not a public University.”

The faith/health leadership program, a collaboration of the consortium, is designed to prepare students “for a leadership role in the area of faith/health.”

The Faith/Health Clinical Leadership program is the centerpiece of the consortium, an unincorporated association between Fairview Health Services, Luther Seminary–associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America–and, formerly, the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center.

The University’s website described the program’s purpose as a “pioneering effort” to “prepare students from a variety of professional backgrounds for a role in faith/health leadership.”

University publicity about the courses promised: “Over three years, this project will have educated 45 to 60 leaders in faith/health [who] will in turn be effective in educating . . . diverse populations rang[ing] from prison ministries to traditional church congregations.”

Gaylor noted that the three-course program is devotional and proselytizing, not academic, as revealed by the reading list (all promoting religion, with nothing balancing or critiquing religious claims).

The University describes the program as being a model for training health providers and seminarians together for the very first time. The program would culminate in “an international conference of faith and health education” to help other institutions “implement their own Faith Health programming” and ” ‘catch’ the vision of the tremendous possibilities for spiritual progress.”

The University has trumpeted the fact that the courses would be accredited by the private Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), whose mission is to bring “theological students and ministers of all faiths . . . into supervised encounters with persons in crisis.” CPE describes itself as the “actual practice of ministry to persons” and trains students for various ministerial, chaplaincy and pastoral positions.

The University states that “current healthcare systems are in critical need of transformation and reform. . . . the arena of faith, religion and spiritual resources holds the key to movement toward holistic wellness practices.”

Gaylor said the paper trail of draft language, grant proposals and documents about the course development reveals that an “inappropriate boundary would be crossed” if training in “health/faith leadership” is offered by a public-supported University.

Defendant Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, wrote:

“While programs to prepare parish nurses have partially filled the need of faith communities, there is a great need for education that is interdisciplinary in nature, that incorporates clinical pastoral education, and focuses on leadership in faith/health settings.”

A University official stated in a grant proposal that “health systems, seminaries and academic health centers are uniquely positioned to advance faith and health initiatives.”

Luther Seminary’s president, David L. Tiede, wrote that the faith/health leadership program “clearly fits with our mission to ‘Educate leaders for Christian communities to serve in God’s world.’ “

Two of the three courses, taught by mostly religion-connected faculty, are largely clinical, wherein students would basically minister to patients.

The first course, “History, Theology, and Philosophy of Healing,” compares “healing traditions, theology and spiritual practices.”

Semester two, “Healer’s Journey,” “enables the students to reflect on their own personal, professional, and spiritual values as a means of assisting others to use their own spiritual background for enhancing their own well-being and healing.” Students will apply their “spiritual health history and documentation” and take a “spiritual assessment.”

An original draft of the course included assignments such as, “Outline ways that your God has blessed you and prepared you for a new life and ministry.”

Course three, originally called “Faith Health: Leadership for Change,” cited the objective of assessing the “faith community in health, healing and wholeness.” In original announcements of the courses, the University of Minnesota said that Luther Seminary students could use the program to fulfill some of their required courses when seeking masters of divinity, etc.

The Foundation seeks to enjoin defendants from providing graduate programming that endorses and promotes religion.

Seven Foundation members in Minnesota are named as plaintiffs, along with the Foundation.

This is the Foundation’s fourth federal lawsuit challenging the faith-based initiative, three of which it has won, (with a split decision in one, which is on appeal.)

The complaint and additional documents in the case, Freedom From Religion Foundation et al. v. Dr. Robert Bruininks, et al., Civil No. 05-638 JNE/SRN, are available online (go to www.ffrf.org/news/).

Freedom From Religion Foundation