FFRF Wins First Court Victory in Nation against Faith-Based Funding (Jan/Feb 2002)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has won the first federal court decision in the nation declaring public funding of faith-based social services unconstitutional, in its legal challenge of direct taxpayer funding of the pervasively sectarian Faith Works of Milwaukee.

In her January 7 ruling, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, of the Western District of Wisconsin, found that a public “grant to Faith Works constitutes unrestricted, direct funding of an organization that engages in religious indoctrination” and that the “funding stream violates the establishment clause.”

The case is significant as the first challenge of funding under faith-based initiatives to be adjudicated, and the first such challenge to be won.

Freedom From Religion Foundation vs. Faith Works dealt a legal and symbolic setback to Pres. George W. Bush’s faith-based initiatives proposal before Congress.

As a candidate, Bush made a July 18, 2000, campaign stop at the convent rented by Faith Works, singling the religious ministry out as the type of program he intended to subsidize with millions of tax dollars as president. Faith Works runs a longterm residential treatment program for male addicts that overtly relies on faith, as its name makes clear.

The First Amendment victory has received nationwide publicity, including an editorial attacking the decision in the Wall Street Journal (“Let faith work,” Jan. 25).

In a 68-page decision, Crabb granted summary judgment to the Foundation, halting funding to the faith-based agency through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. Two-thirds of Faith Works revenues come from public funding. In 1998 and 1999, Faith Works was awarded a total of $600,000 from discretionary funds awarded by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, through the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families block grant.

An additional $280,000 in taxpayer money was granted to Faith Works in the summer of 2001 under Gov. Scott McCallum.

The Foundation is also challenging a contract through the state Department of Corrections. Crabb stopped short of ruling the DOC contract unconstitutional, and is scheduling a trial to hear this portion of the Foundation’s challenge. However, Crabb ruled that the burden of proof is on DOC to prove it did not coerce men on probation or parole to participate in Faith Works.

“We believe one million dollars of tax money has been wrongfully and unconstitutionally spent by our government to make possible a ministry devoted to bringing ‘homeless addicts directly to Christ,’ ” noted Foundation president Anne Gaylor.
“The massive and unexamined give-away of public funds to groups with religious agendas is costing taxpayers unparalleled sums. We expect our lawsuit will be the first of many brought and won to stop this flood of public money to religion.”

Faith Works claims its success is based on its faith-based approach as well as its long-term program. Yet it offers scant documentation of success. Faith Works did not open its doors until after receiving state funding and had no track record in Wisconsin, and “could not have begun operations without prior public commitments of money,” noted Crabb in her decision.

Faith Works requires men enrolled in its program to attend “faith-enhanced” Alcoholics Anonymous counseling. Chapel and bible studies are part of the routine. Goals include “spiritual enrichment,” a spiritual mentor, church affiliation and membership for each man.

In her decision, Crabb cited the Faith Works Standards of Practice: “We are as individuals to be growing in our own faith life by regular church attendance, prayer, Bible study and seeking Spiritual direction from a Pastor/ Shepard [sic] in our faith community.”

Crabb’s fact-filled decision lists other evidence of the group’s faith agenda, such as starting staff meetings with prayer, expecting staff to attend church and to “develop a personal relationship with God.”

In guidelines to staff, Faith Works describes itself as “a Christian faith-based treatment program, . . . serving the Lord in evangelistic outreach” and instructs staff to “respect the Holy spirit’s ability to work in each person’s life whether staff or resident.”

A pivotal document in the decision was Faith Works’ employee handbook, containing a “Statement of Faith” in the Christian principles guiding the organization: “AA . . . stops short of recommending Christ to all. However, at Faith Works we do.”

Crabb found that the allocation of direct funding violates the second prong of the Lemon-Agostini Test by resulting in state-funded indoctrination: “As its name suggests, Faith Works is a faith-based treatment program whose bylaws state that it employs a Christian-enhanced model of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program.”

“Faith Works’ version of AA involves more explicit references to God than the standard AA . . . .” Crabb noted. “The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has held that the content of traditional AA meetings is religious as a matter of law even when the meetings did not employ a ‘Christian-enhanced’ model such as the one Faith Works uses.”

Faith Works, which intervened to become a co-defendant, tried to argue that it received enough private funding to cover the religious counseling it offered. Crabb soundly rejected this argument: “The Supreme Court has systematically rejected attempts to unbundle religious activities through statistics and accounting.”

Crabb added: “Defendants neglect to point out that they used the integration of religion into Faith Works’ recovery model as a strong selling point for obtaining funding. . . . Faith Works cannot now try to excise religion from its offerings, saying that it contracted with the state to provide the wholly secular services of room and board without any reference to religion. This assertion rings hollow in light of the literature Faith Works provided the state. . . . I conclude that the Faith Works program indoctrinates its participants in religion, primarily through its counselors.”

Crabb also dismissed Faith Works’ arguments that the government violates “free speech” rights if it refuses to fund faith-based social agencies while it funds secular agencies: “. . . the Wisconsin state government’s appropriation of funds for the delivery of drug and alcohol treatment services . . . does not create a forum for private speech.”

Crabb concluded that Faith Works is a pervasively sectarian institution and “that religion is so integral to the Faith Works program that it is not possible to isolate it from the program as a whole.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc., Anne Nicol Gaylor, Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker. Representing the Foundation is attorney Richard Bolton. The lawsuit was filed in October 2000.
The case is Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Scott McCallum, 00-C-617-C, January 7, 2002. The decision can be found online at the Foundation’s website: http://www.ffrf.org/legal/faithworks_decision.html

Freedom From Religion Foundation