Foundation Challenges Montana Entanglement (May 2003)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit in April challenging the funding and merger of two Montana state offices with the “Montana Faith-Health Cooperative.”

The Foundation and three Montana Foundation members–Edith Paxman, Ron Calvert and James Soular–are suing the Montana Office of Rural Health, its executive director David M. Young, the Montana State University-Bozeman, and the Montana Faith-Health Cooperative. The “faith-health cooperative” is in the same office as the Montana Office of Rural Health and the Montana State University-Bozeman.

Young, who is on the steering committee of the “faith-health cooperative,” shares management of the cooperative with the Executive Director of the Montana Association of Churches.

State and federal taxpayers are subsidizing the activities of the faith-health cooperative, the lawsuit charges. The Montana Office of Rural Health, as part of the Montana State University-Bozeman educational website, hosts, copyrights and owns the cooperative’s website.

“The mission of the Montana Faith-Health Cooperative is to foster and promote holistic health care, including an emphasis on the spiritual aspect of human beings,” the Foundation complaint charges, promoting “the importance and power of faith as part of public health care initiatives.”

“The actions of the defendants, Montana Office of Rural Health and David M. Young, are integral to the organization and operations of the Montana Faith-Health Cooperative, including its mission of religious indoctrination.”

The Office of Rural Health also engages in other activities that promote religious spirituality and health, including maintenance of a “spirit health” website, through a partnership of the Montana Office of Rural Health, the Montana State University College of Nursing, and the Montana Pastoral Care Association.

The integration of religious spirituality is being promoted as an inherent component of public health delivery models, the Foundation complaint notes.

Using state and federal funds to operate a faith-based organization, “whose religious objective is indivisible from any secular objective,” advances, endorses and promotes the establishment of religion in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

“The incorporation of the defendants, Montana Office of Rural Health and David M. Young, into the organization and operation of the Montana Faith-Health Cooperative constitutes governmental approval of the religious content integrated into the activities of that organization.

“The defendants’ actions convey a message that religion is favored, preferred and promoted, in contrast to nonbelief, and the mission of the Montana Faith-Health Cooperative is clothed in traditional indicia of government endorsement.”

The plaintiffs are compelled to support the establishment, endorsement and advancement of religion through state and federal funding of “programmatic religion indoctrination.”

The Foundation is asking for an order enjoining the defendants from continuing to operate, manage or otherwise participate in the Montana Faith-Health Cooperative, or from engaging in any other activities creating the appearance of government endorsement of religion.

Attorney Richard L. Bolton, of Madison, Wis., in cooperation with a Montana firm, is representing the Foundation.

Freedom From Religion Foundation