FFRF Challenges North Dakota's Subsidy of Christian Juvenile "Ranch"

The Foundation, with three of its North Dakota members, filed a federal lawsuit in North Dakota on June 19, 2007, challenging state and county subsidy of avowedly Christian juvenile detention facilities. The ranch, run by the Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, "attempts to modify behavior by directing children to find faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," the Foundation legal complaint alleges. The facilities incorporate biblical teachings, subscribe to the three Ecumenical Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions, and schedule weekly Spiritual Life Groups activities, church attendance or other spiritual activities on Sundays, individual spiritual discussions, prayers at meals, baptism, confirmation studies, devotions, bible studies and related discussion groups. Post-release mentoring services also incorporate religion and are publicly funded with taxpayer appropriations. The ranches, run by two Lutheran denominations, have monopolized juvenile detention services in the state for many decades.

Case No. 2007 CV 00043

Press Release
Read Complaint (pdf)

U.S. Dist. Judge Daniel L. Hovland on July 17, 2008, granted the motion to dismiss the federal lawsuit, saying the Legislature does not explicitly mandate that state officials allocate specific funds for the ranches, so the alleged violation amounts to a discretionary action by the executive branch and may not be challenged by taxpayers.
Judge's Ruling (pdf)

FFRF Wins Challenge of "Chaplaincy" For Indiana Family & Social Services

FFRF's major legal coup in 2007 was ending the first chaplaincy for state workers ever set up in the nation, in which a pastor was hired by Indiana to bring "faith into the workplace" for state employees in the Family and Social Services Administration. The state abolished the chaplaincy and fired the chaplain in the fall of 2007, ending the lawsuit. The lawsuit brought media attention, resulting in several exposes in Indiana newspapers revealing that in nearly 18 months and after $120,000 in tax money, the program had met few of its goals.

The Foundation and four of its Indiana members and taxpayers filed a lawsuit on May 2, 2007, in the courtroom of Judge David Hamilton, U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana, challenging the creation of a chaplaincy for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA). The FSSA hired Pastor Michael L. Latham, a Baptist minister, in 2006, at a salary of $60,000 a year, paid with revenue from state taxpayers. The job description stated that Rev. Latham "serves as the Chaplain for the Family and Social Services Administration and functions as a staff advisor on all problems involving spiritual needs of the employees. He also serves as the strategic director for policy, procedures and communication efforts on faith-based services. The position reports directly to the FSSA Chief of Staff." The job description required the chaplain to be an ordained or licensed minister, who will minister to FSS employees, develop a statewide network of volunteer ministers, train staff to encourage a "faithful environment in the workplace," participate in outreach to faith-based groups and prepare "faith-based services, including for legislators and service providers.

Read the news release
Read Amended Legal Complaint (pdf)
Read confirmation of termination of chaplaincy program (pdf)
Read Stipulation & Order for Dismissal (pdf)

FFRF Challenges New Mexico Faith-based Prison Program

A state-funded fundamentalist Christian prison ministry program ("God pod") in a women's prison in Grants, N.M., was challenged in federal court by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on Nov. 7, 2005. New Mexico contracts with Corrections Corporation of America, also named as a defendant, which is the nation's largest private provider of prison services. CCA partners with the Chicago-based Institute in Basic Life Principles, a fundamentalist Christian ministry run by Christian reconstructionist Bill Gothard "for the purpose of introducing people to the Lord Jesus Christ." Women prisoners are given proselytizing workbooks training them to "submit" to male authority. CCA plans to "franchise" the Christian program in prisons. Read press release.

One of the first casualties of Hein v. FFRF was FFRF's strong lawsuit against the State of New Mexico for establishing an outrageous Christian dominionist "God pod" in a women's prison in Grants, N.M. FFRF withdrew the lawsuit in July 2007, after the judge said he would rule against the right of FFRF's state taxpayers to sue. FFRF hopes to challenge religion programs funded by tax dollars in prisons with prisoner plaintiffs in the future.

Details on Unconstitutional "Faith Pod"

The Hein Decision: FFRF Sues Over Bush's Offices of Faith-based Initiatives

Hein v. FFRF. In June 2004, the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed the first lawsuit to challenge the creation of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, as well as eight Cabinet-level "offices of faith-based initiatives." The Foundation alleged that conferences arranged by the White House office resemble revival meetings, and demonstrate government preference for funding religious social service agencies. The lawsuit alleged that the Departments of Education, Labor, Justice, and Health and Human Services have shown preference in funding religious organizations, and that many intermediary groups receiving federal funding do likewise.

The case is the Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Jim Towney, et al., 04 C 03981, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin, Judge John Shabaz.

U.S. District Court Judge John C. Shabaz, ruled on Nov. 12, 2004, that taxpayers do not have standing to challenge executive branch officials who engage in constitutionally suspect activities funded by general Congressional budget appropriations. Bush created the faith-based initiative by executive order. Shabaz permitted the rest of the lawsuit to continue, which included the Foundation's challenge of federal funding of MentorKids USA and to Emory University "to support faith-based community health programs." (See below)

On March 9, 2005, the Foundation asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit to reinstate its legal challenge of the creation of the White House and other federal "faith-based" offices. On Jan. 13, 2006, a 7th Circuit panel, in a 2-1 decision, reinstated the Foundation's challenge, finding that taxpayers have a right under Art. III of the Constitution to sue over a violation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause, even if Congress did not specifically earmark money for the challenged program or activity.

"Taxpayers have standing to challenge an executive-branch program, alleged to promote religion, that is financed by a Congressional appropriation, even if the program was created entirely within the executive branch, as by presidential executive order," wrote Judge Richard A. Posner, joined by Judge Diane P. Wood.

The 11-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago voted 7-4 not to rehear the question of standing in the Freedom From Religion Foundation's federal lawsuit challenging creation of federal faith-based offices. This technical victory for the Foundation allowed the lawsuit to continue.
Read the Foundation's news release

The Administration appealed the Foundation's right to sue to the highest court. The U.S. Supreme Court, on Dec. 1, 2006, agreed to hear the Bush Administration's appeal of the reinstatement of taxpayer standing for the Foundation plaintiffs. Oral arguments were held on Feb. 28, 2007. At issue was whether the Foundation's taxpayer plaintiffs--co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, along with FFRF president emerita Anne Nicol Gaylor--have standing to sue over the creation of the faith-based offices. The Foundation notes that two of the three Supreme Court cases on the question of taxpayer standing to sue the executive branch over actions which violate the Establishment clause are in its favor. The case is now titled Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Read the news release and pdf files of the Foundation's briefs before both the U.S. 7th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court decision came down on June 25, 2007. Although FFRF lost its right to sue the executive branch over the creation of faith-based offices at the White House and Cabinets in Hein v. FFRF, FFRF did win the plurality opinion, as The Los Angeles Times pointed out. FFRF had 4 justices solidly in our camp, whereas the bloc of 5 Roman Catholic judges against us-Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy-was divided. Although Kennedy, the swing vote, defected to the majority on FFRF's right to sue, he refused to vote to outright overturn the precedent of Flast v. Cohen, which permits taxpayers to sue over Congressional actions which violate the separation of church and state. The Hein decision says federal taxpayers do not have the right to challenge executive branch violations not explicitly authorized by the legislative branch. The unjust decision means our country has a constitutional separation between church and state, but no way to enforce it in this and many other instances. The punchy dissent, written by Justice Souter and signed by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Stevens, noted: "If the Executive could accomplish through the exercise of discretion exactly what Congress cannot do through legislation, Establishment Clause protection would melt away." The Establishment Clause is in for a rough ride in the Roberts Court.

Original Complaint

Background Information on Hein v. FFRF

Amicus Briefs in Support of FFRF

News Releases

Cert Documents


FFRF Halts University of Minnesota "Faith/Health" Entanglement

The University of Minnesota agreed in September 2006 to drop plans to sponsor a "faith health leadership course" after removing itself from a "faith health consortium," in response to a federal lawsuit filed by FFRF on March 25, 2005. The "faith/health leadership program" was to be the centerpiece of the Minnesota Faith Health Consortium and a national model, in which the University of Minnesota would train professionals to be "faith/health leaders," offering devotional, not academic classes for seminary credit at a public university.

Read press release

FFRF Sues Veteran Affairs Department Over Religion

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit April 19, 2006, in federal court, challenging the pervasive integration of "spirituality" into health care by the Department of Veteran Affairs. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin, names VA Secretary R. James Nicholson; Undersecretary for Health Jonathan Perlin, M.D.; Hugh Maddry, director, and A. Keith Ethridge,deputy director, of the National Chaplain Center; and Jeni Cook, program manager of the Spiritual Health Initiative.

The lawsuit alleges that the Veterans Health Administration, the nation's largest integrated health system, "has deeply committed to integrate faith, spirituality and religion into the substantive protocol of its medical treatments," in a manner which unconstitutionally promotes, advances and endorses religion.

The complaint observes that the VA now "provides pastoral services not as an accommodation to veteran's free exercise rights" but because it "deems pastoral services for all patients, including veterans receiving outpatient medical services, to be a necessary part of medical treatment." The VA encourages all patients "to tap into their alleged spiritual resources of faith," with VA chaplains involved as "part of the treatment team for all patients." The VA now plugs in chaplains to outpatients (making up 80% of patients) whose religious needs do not require special accommodation.

Read the legal complaint in full for FFRF v Department of Veterans Affairs (Case No. 06C0212S)
Read the initial news release

In September 2006, Judge Shabaz ruled against a VA motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which contended FFRF had no legitimate Establishment Clause claim. Shabaz ruled that if the facts are as alleged, there is merit in the lawsuit and it may proceed. Read the news release, which contains a link to the judge's Memorandum.

Judge John Shabaz ruled on Jan. 8, 2007, that the integration of religion and "spirituality" into all aspects of medical care is permissible because it is ostensibly "voluntary." The Foundation, which contends coercion is not necessary to show an Establishment Clause violation, appealed the decision to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The government asked to stay the case pending the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in FFRF v. Hein, deciding whether citizens have standing to sue over so-called discretionary spending that violates the Establishment Clause by the Executive Branch. This stay was granted, despite the fact that standing was never raised as an issue at the district court level and had not been contested.

Read the District Court decision - FFRF v. Nicholson, 06-C-212-S
Read FFRF News Release on lower court decision

The government's motion to stay the appeal, pending the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hein v. FFRF, was granted by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

FFRF VA Appeal Brief, April 2, 2007 (PDF)
Motion to Stay Appeal/Government Affidavit/Stay Order by 7th Circuit (PDF)
Brief of Appellants & Appendix (PDF)
Appeals Court reply, Nov. 16, 2007 (PDF)

Oral arguments were heard in January 2008.

FFRF Challenges Emory University Grant

Emory University received a $1.5 million federal grant from Health and Human Service, announced in October 2002, to support faith-based community health programs across the country. Emory's Interfaith Health Program (IHP) disbursed $900,000 of its public grant to nine "religious health conversion" foundations, who in turn were charged with awarding subgrants. The grant application stated that "subawards will be granted to 49 faith-based organizations." At the point of the legal challenge, at least 80% of subgrants had gone to religious agencies.The Emory grant application identified religious goals such as the improvement of "government/FBO collaborations." Emory admitted in correspondence with HHS that "some of the Foundations exercise a preference in their private grant making for competent applications which reflect their own religious heritage." On January 11, 2005 (as the Foundation's attorney was at Emory taking depositions), Shabaz ruled the Foundation had not proved the funding was unconstitutionally favoring religion. In the same decision, Shabaz ruled in favor of the Foundation's challenge of federal funding of MentorKids USA.

FFRF Challenges Funding of MentorKids

The lawsuit sought a court order to HHS to discontinue funding MentorKids, as well as an order to enjoin HHS from "further disbursement of funding to faith-based mentoring groups until HHS has a demonstrated plan in place to comply with its constitutional obligations." On Nov. 23, 2004, the Foundation filed for summary judgment in its challenge of federal funding of the exclusively Christian group, which works only with churchgoing mentors to "share the good news of who Jesus is and how he can provide a future of hope for anyone," working with children of prisoners.

MentorKids USA was awarded a total of $225,000 in HHS funds for the years 2003-2006. It was originally launched in 1996 by Prison Fellowship Ministries, the Christian ministry founded by Watergate felon Chuck Colson. Its website advertises: "We are a faith-based organization working in partnerships with churches and the local Christian community to enlist, train and support Christian mentors." The group's Statement of Faith includes a "belief in one God, Creator and Lord of the Universe, the Co-Eternal Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Mentors must sign the mission statement, which includes the belief that "the Bible is God's authoritative and inspired word that is without error in all its teachings, including creation, history, its origins and salvation, . . ."

On Dec. 15, 2004, HHS suspended "the drawdown of federal funds" to MentorKids USA. HHS ordered the group to submit a "Corrective Action Plan" by Jan. 3, 2005, then asked the court to dismiss the Foundation lawsuit.

On January 11, 2005, the Department of Health and Human Services was ordered for the first time by a court to "vacate" funding of MentorKids. Judge Shabaz found that the federal government failed to "prove there is no reasonable expectation that the wrong will be repeated" and ruled the funding unconstitutional: "federal funds have been used by the MentorKids program to advance religion in violation of the Establishment Clause." The victory was not appealed.

View News Releases:
FFRF Sues over MentorKids Funding
HHS Suspends Funding to MentorKids
Landmark Decision: Court Revokes HHS Funding
Challenge of HHS Faith-based Grant to Emory

FFRF Wins Montana Faith-based Challenge

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit in April 2003 challenging the funding and merger of two Montana state offices with the "Montana Faith-Health Cooperative."

The Foundation and three Montana Foundation members 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 case is Freedom From Religion Foundation et. al. v. Montana Office of Rural Health (CV-03-30-BU-RWA).
View Article

FFRF won the lawsuit in October 2004.
View Decision

FFRF Wins First Faith-based Challenge

The Freedom From Religion Foundation took and won the fully adjudicated federal lawsuit challenging direct funding of a faith-based agency in 2002. The Foundation challenged the government funding of Faith Works, a Milwaukee group dedicated to bringing "homeless addicts to Christ." As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush visited Faith Works and announced Faith Works was a prototype of the kind of religious agency he would funnel billions of tax dollars to. The Foundation's victory ensuring no more direct funding of Faith Works was not appealed, and set significant national precedent. The case is Freedom From Religion Foundation v. McCallum (00 C 0617 C).

View News Release

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