Foundation Challenges Faith-based Offices

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed an unprecedented challenge of Pres. George W. Bush’s creation of federal offices for faith-based initiatives.

The lawsuit, filed in the court of Federal Judge John Shabaz for the western district of Wisconsin on June 17, names as a defendant Jim Towey, director of White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.

The Foundation is also suing John Ashcroft, Department of Justice, as well as the Secretaries of the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services.

Also sued are the eight cabinet-level or federal faith czars.” Additionally named is the head of the Center for Disease Control.

Among the defendants named in the Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Jim Towey, et. al., is former Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, now Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Bobby Polito, whom Thompson appointed to head the HHS Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s landmark court victory in 2002, winning the first fully adjudicated challenge of direct funding of a pervasively sectarian faith-based agency, named then-Gov. Thompson. The successful federal lawsuit challenged Thompson’s endowment of a faith-based social services group, Faith Works of Milwaukee, which was then headed by Bobby Polito.

The Foundation’s new complaint claims that the various Centers for Faith-based Initiatives are improperly funded with public tax dollars, and have the purpose and effect of singling out faith-based social services.

The lawsuit takes aim at a series of conferences being hosted by the White House and various federal offices for the benefit of faith-based recipients. The Foundation characterized these conferences as often appearing like de facto revival meetings. The conferences have been addressed by Towey, Pres. George W. Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other key players.

The Foundation lawsuit also alleges that intermediary groups receiving federal funds are giving improper preference to faith-based organizations. Specific programs that have been funded so far, particularly by Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor, contain impermissible religious content, said the Foundation complaint.

Freedom From Religion Foundation