Alaska Bible College Grant Suspended

Federal funds of $435,000 earmarked for Alaska Christian College–as well as remaining funds from a previous federal grant–were suspended on Oct. 7 by the U.S. Department of Education.

Following receipt of the suspension letter, the Freedom From Religion Foundation agreed to settle Freedom From Religion Foundation, Anne Nicol Gaylor, Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker v. Margaret Spellings, Secretary of the United States Department of Education, Case No. 05 C 0247 S.

The federal lawsuit contesting federal funding for the bible college was filed on April 21 in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin.

Alaska Christian College had been earmarked for more than $1 million in federal aid, amounting to an unprecedented $20,000 per student, thanks to religious pork” from Alaska’s over-attentive Congressional delegation.

The bible college was recently opened by the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska. It does not offer academic classes. Its tiny population of students (31 this year), mostly Native Alaskans, receives only a bible certificate at the end of one year of bible and Christian instruction.

Sally Stroup, for the U.S. Department of Education, sent a letter dated Oct. 7 to Keith J. Hamilton, president of Alaska Christian College, notifying him that:

“Our review of the College’s activities indicates that (1) the College does not have adequate safeguards to separate clearly in time or location inherently religious activities from the secular activities that could properly be supported by the federal funds, and (2) participation by students in the College’s religious activities is not voluntary.

“Moreover, we have concluded that the College has used federal funds for religious purposes. Thus, we do not believe that the College’s use of federal funds complies with applicable legal requirements.”

The college submitted a new budget in August 2005 to the Department of Education, which the Department rejected:

“From all of the information we have available, even with the revised budget narratives, the College achieves its purpose in carrying out its core program–to help prepare for college underprivileged students who have earned high school diplomas but who are not ready for college-level academic work–through inculcating religion.

“Its courses, all of which are part of its overall program, almost without exception contain significant religious content. There is no separation in time or place of religious instruction from nonreligious activities. It is also not the case that the religious instruction is in any sense voluntary for individuals who attend the College.”

Stroup added that the proposed reallocation of grant funds, “to cover, for example, salaries for food service workers,” would be incidental to the “school’s core program of non-voluntary religious inculcation and instruction.”

The letter cited a federal provision that “inherently religious activities” offered by a private organization receiving a grant from the Department must be separate “in time or location from any programs or services supported by a grant . . . Participation in any such religious activities by beneficiaries of the programs supported by the grant must be voluntary.”

The college could still submit a “corrective action plan,” but if grants were reinstated, the Foundation would be notified and could go back to court.

Federal funds got the school off the ground by paying for a drug rehabilitation center (public funds of $200,000 in 2003) and dormitories to be built, and other essential infrastructure. Most of the salaries for staff (who all teach religious courses) was covered by federal grants.

The most recent allocation of $435,000 was inserted into the 2005 spending bill by Rep. Don Young. Remaining unused monies designated for the school in 2004, a sum as yet undisclosed, were also suspended.

Students were told their main text would be a bible and the “most important requirement for admission is a desire to grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ.”

“We want these suspensions to serve notice on members of Congress that ‘religious pork’ will not hold up in court. The wall of separation between church and state, while battered, still holds,” commented Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president.

She continued: “We have rescued about half a million in taxpayers’ money. Public funds should never have been used to help build a bible college or indoctrinate a vulnerable set of students. These students deserve true academic remedial aid, not biblical indoctrination.”

“If the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska wants to continue insulting Native American students by supplanting Native culture with Christian superstitions,” added co-president Dan Barker, who belongs to the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) Tribe, “then they should do so by raising the funds from their own adherents instead of taxpayers.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation