FFRF Sues Minnesota Faith Health Consortium

Public funding of the Minnesota Faith/Health Consortium is being challenged in a federal lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based national association of freethinkers working to keep state and church separate.

Seven Foundation members in Minnesota are named as plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, filed on March 25 in U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, along with the Foundation. They are: Bruce and Jean Christensen, Tom Stavros, Sybille Redmond, William Van Druten, and Richard and LaGretta Dean.

We are very appreciative of the Foundation members who have become plaintiffs and have taxpayer standing, making it possible to pursue this violation,” said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president.

Defendants are Robert H. Bruininks, president of the University of Minnesota, Frank B. Cerra, senior vice president for health sciences at the University of Minnesota, Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing, part of the Academic Health Center of the UM, and the Minnesota Faith Health Consortium.

The Minnesota Faith Health Consortium is an unincorporated association between Fairview Health Services, Luther Seminary and the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center, which is located on the Riverside Campus. The lawsuit charges that it “engages in activities to promote personal faith and/or faith communities within the context of health care.”

The “mission” of the consortium is “the alleged relevance of faith as an integral part of health care services.”

“The Minnesota Faith Health Consortium functions as a seed bed for faith and health initiatives that promote the integration of faith and health,” the Foundation complaint notes, and “promotes the alleged importance and power of faith as part of public health care initiatives.”

The Consortium is managed and controlled jointly by all its partners, including the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center.

The defendants have also helped develop a Faith/Health Clinical Leadership program through the UM Center for Spirituality and Healing, which brings together health care professionals, clergy, UM grad students and seminarians in a “transformative educational process,” including training in Clinical Pastoral Education and “parish nursing.”

“The defendants’ actions have violated the fundamental principle prohibiting government endorsement of religion by using state taxpayer funds for the operation of a faith-based organization whose religious objective is indivisible from any secular objective,” the Foundation complaint observes.

“The defendants’ actions convey a message that religion is favored, preferred and promoted, in contrast to nonbelief, and the activities of the Minnesota Faith Health Consortium and the graduate programming offered by the University of Minnesota are clothed in traditional indicia of government endorsement.”

The Foundation asks for a declaration that the actions of the defendants violate both the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and Art. I, Sects. 16 and 8, of the Minnesota Constitution. The Foundation seeks an order enjoining the defendants from continuing to operate, manage, fund, direct or participate in the Minnesota Faith Health Consortium. An injunction is also sought against the defendants from providing graduate programming that endorses and promotes religion, including the Faith/Health Clinical Leadership Program.

The Foundation won a recent federal lawsuit ruling that the Montana Office of Rural Health impermissibly gave more than a million in tax dollars to fund the Montana Faith Health Cooperative (also “parish nursing”). The Oct. 27, 2004 decision was handed down by U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard W. Anderson, U.S. District Court, District of Montana, Butte Division. It was not appealed.

In 2002, the Freedom From Religion Foundation won the first challenge of faith-based funding under the Bush Administration, in a federal decision in the Milwaukee Faith Works case.

In January, the Foundation won a landmark order from a federal judge halting continued funding by the Department of Health and Human Services of MentorKids USA, a Phoenix group which works exclusively with Christian, church-going, fundamentalist mentors. This was the first such case challenging Cabinet level funding.

This is the Foundation’s fourth federal lawsuit challenging the faith-based initiative.

New faith-based lawsuits will be announced in the June/July issue.

Freedom From Religion Foundation