The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter July 9 criticizing the state of Ohio's $300,000 grant to Athletes in Action, a Christian youth sports ministry.
Attorney General Mike DeWine's office announced the grant on July 1 for the group "to initiate new, or accelerate existing, sports and training projects for Ohio youth, with plans to reach more than 3,700 athletes and students over a two-year period."
According to its website, "Since 1966, Athletes in Action has been using sports as a platform to help people answer questions of faith and to point them to Jesus. . . . Ultimately, our goal is to see peoples' lives changed as they discover God's purpose for their life. We dream of a day when there are Christ-followers on every team, in sport, in every nation."
"The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the government cannot subsidize religious projects wherein public money is used to facilitate religious exercise, proselytization, or inculcation," wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Katherine Paige.
"Ohio's direct financial contribution to AIA, a Christian youth sports ministry that uses 'sports as a platform to help people answer questions of faith and to point them to Jesus,' guarantees that there will be impermissible advancement of religion," said Paige. "To suggest otherwise would be disingenuous."
The specific programs the grant is intended to fund are also religious in nature, noted Paige. "The state is funding a Christian ministry that uses sports as a vehicle for faith; it is not funding a sports program that happens to be run by Christians. The distinction is crucial and means that the grant is unconstitutional."
FFRF's letter concludes by asking Attorney General DeWine to take "immediate corrective action," suggesting that the state "rescind the grant and invest the funds in a secular organization that values supporting young athletes more than proselytizing them."
FFRF is a state/church watchdog with more than 22,500 members nationwide, including 600 members and a chapter in Ohio.