FFRF Challenges Funding of MentorKids (January 11, 2005)

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.

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