The Department of Health and Human Services has suspended the drawdown of federal funds" to MentorKids USA, which is slated to receive $225,000 in public funds through 2006.
The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation in late November legally challenged the constitutionality of the funding to the Christian mentoring program in Phoenix, Arizona.
MentorKids' faith statement, which must be signed by all volunteer mentors, includes a belief that "the Bible is God's authoritative and inspired word that is without error in all its teachings, including creation, history, its originals and salvation, and Christians must submit to its divine authority. . ." (Boldfaced added.)
HHS wrote that it "is suspending the drawdown of federal funds until such time as we are confident that the MentorKids USA program is in compliance with all relevant federal rules, regulations and policies." HHS is also requiring the group to submit a "Corrective Action Plan" by Jan. 3, 2005, according to a Dec. 15, 2004 letter to MentorKids by Harry Wilson, associate commissioner of HHS' Family and Youth Services Bureau. HHS "will stand ready to assist you with technical assistance during this process."
"This looks to us to be an admission that public funding of this mentoring program, which works only with Christian, churchgoing mentors, has crossed the line," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
"However, it's a little disingenuous of the government to claim it is 'shocked, shocked,' to discover that this religion-infused Christian program is pushing religion! Our lawsuit, of which MentorKids USA is just one aspect, contends the government is showing preference for religious programs that are unconstitutionally promoting religion with federal backing."
When Gaylor appeared on the "O'Reilly Factor" on Dec. 9 about the lawsuit, even Bill O'Reilly said during the show: "If Mentor USA is exclusionary in the sense that somebody tries to join but can't because they're a Muslim, Ms. Gaylor may win in the courts."