Alaska School a Religious Boondoggle

Documents about the massive federal funding of Alaska Christian College–the target of a lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation–conclusively reveal the school’s ministerial mission.

The Foundation is suing to halt allocation of the most recent federal grant of $435,000 to the religious school, which bills itself as “an educational ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska.”

“It’s a religious boondoggle,” charges Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president.

The tiny institute has been earmarked for more than $1 million in federal aid, amounting to $20,000 per student, thanks to Alaska’s exceptionally attentive Congressional team. Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski intervened to get the school hundreds of thousands of tax dollars in previous years. Rep. Don Young inserted the $435,000 religious pork being challenged by the Foundation in the 2005 omnibus spending bill last November. That money has not yet been spent.

While claiming its goal is to prepare impoverished Native Alaskans for future college careers, the school is unaccredited, offers no degrees, or even academic classes.

Courses include: “Survey of the Old Testament,” “Survey of the New Testament,” “Old/New Testament Electives,” “History of the Church,” “Foundations of the Christian Faith,” “Discipleship Encounters,” “Worship,” “Biblical Ethics,” “Biblical Counseling,” “Formational Youth Ministry,” “Children’s Ministry,” “Camping Ministry,” “Introduction to Mission and Evangelism,” and “Applied Ministry.”

As a result of the Foundation’s challenge, a federal investigator visited Alaska Christian College on July 11-14. Department of Education program officer David Johnson reported that all full-time employees of the school in remote Soldotna, Alaska, are members of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska, the “college’s” sponsor.

The majority of faculty time is spent in teaching religious courses, yet their salaries, totaling $250,000, are the largest item in its (mostly public-funded) budget. For example, 85% of the registrar’s 2004 salary was covered by the ’04 federal earmark, yet he admits spending only 10% of his time as registrar. Most of his time is spent working as college chaplain and instructor of religious classes.

The president (65% of whose salary is publicly-paid), is an ordained minister who teaches religion.

The institute, which opened in 2001 with 22 students, now has 37 students in 2004-05, “thanks to scholarships provided through the ’04 earmark,” reports Johnson.

“One hesitates to describe ACC as a college,” Johnson noted in his evaluation.

“With few exceptions, the first-year students take a common curriculum that is almost entirely religious in nature.”

Upon completion of the first year, students earn a bible certificate. They can enroll in nearby Kenai Peninsula Community College in their second year if they wish to take any academic classes. However, the director of the community college told the investigator “no ACC students have yet earned an associates degree from this institution.”

While the dean of students claimed about 45% of the students who actually completed the first-year curriculum had gone on to higher education, “I believe this estimate to be higher than the actual number,” Johnson reported, noting there is no data on post-ACC study.

The “college” boasts “a single main classroom,” although a dormitory built with previous public funding holds 25 students. The campus also includes “Good Hope Counseling Center,” thanks to a separate federal grant. The investigator noted “the library rooms suggest that well over 90%” of the books in the library “are religious in nature.” Apparently, the only secular books he observed were a shelf’s worth of psychology books “and a 1987 edition of Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia.”

Highly damning was the president’s admission to the investigator “that mistakes had been made in using the ’04 earmark funds. No distinction had been made between uses of the funds for religious and nonreligious purposes. The president suggested that they just didn’t know that earmark funds could not be spent for religious purposes.”

While the president suggested revising its budget to remedy this, the investigator noted: “ACC’s ability to do so in this matter might be compromised by the lawsuit or by a finding that the institution was so religious in nature that no funds should have been disbursed at all.”

The second-largest budget item was scholarships for first year Native American students to study devotional issues almost exclusively. Again, no distinction was made between scholarship use for tuition versus room and board.

The president estimated ACC could last “until December 2005, without spending any of the ’05 earmark funds.”

“It is truly a scandal that members of Congress would brazenly champion such unprecedented funding for a church school,” Gaylor said. “This is precisely the kind of ‘faith-based’ endeavor that should be supported exclusively by private means, not by taxpayers.”

The federal lawsuit was filed on April 21 in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin.

School With “Christ-Centered Priorities” Gets $1 Million in Public Aid in Alaska

Alaska Christian College’s brochure exclusively advertises its Christian mission: “Our Mission . . . exists to prepare young people for whole-life discipleship.”

A list of “What you’ll find at ACC” advertises almost exclusively religious benefits. ACC offers:

A college with Christ-centered priorities

The chance to experience life in a Christian community

Mission team experience traveling in Western Alaska to share your faith

The opportunity to explore the talents and abilities God has given you

A setting to discover answers to your faith questions

A college committed to you and your walk with Christ

“At Alaska Christian College you will be shaped by the study of God’s Word, equipping you to know Him and to live as His follower. The Bible will be your most valuable textbook. Courses will include surveys of the Old and New Testaments . . .”

“Alaska Christian College will provide you the opportunity to go deeper in your relationship with Christ. Each day begins with praise and worship . . .” The brochure states that students will actively “minister” in schools, food banks, churches and community settings.

A student testimonial reads: “I chose to attend ACC because I wanted to strengthen my relationship with God in a Christian environment, dedicating my life more fully to Christ.”

Students are told to expect a “Christ-focused life.”

“The most important requirement for admission to Alaska Christian College is a desire to grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ.” The registration form requires the “Home Church Name” and student’s denomination, as well as the name of their pastor or church leader. The registration form requires students to answer this question: “Please make a personal statement expressing your purpose in making this application to attend Alaska Christian College as well as a brief account of your life and Christian faith.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation