Federal Court Halts Public Funding of Faith Works

FFRF Wins First Court Victory in Nation against Faith-Based Funding

The Freedom From Religion Foundation's legal challenge of direct, unrestricted taxpayer funding of a faith-based social service agency has resulted in the first court decision in the nation against public funding of faith-based initiatives.

In a decision announced this week, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, for the Western District of Wisconsin, found that a public grant to Faith Works constitutes unrestricted, direct funding of an organization that engages in religious indoctrination" and that the "funding stream violates the establishment clause."

"The case is nationally significant as the first challenge of funding under faith-based initiatives to be adjudicated, and the first such challenge to be won," noted Foundation president Anne Gaylor.

"It is not the business of 'We the People' to be proselytizing and recruiting members for churches. When you read Faith Works' statement of purpose, you can see that it's all about religion. The program is drenched with religion," she added. "For a private program to operate that way is fine. Go right ahead, but don't expect public taxpayers to proselytize for you."

Faith Works received national exposure when George W. Bush as a candidate made a campaign stop on July 18, 2000, at the convent rented by Faith Works, singling the religious ministry out as the type of program he intended to promote as president. Faith Works runs a longterm residential treatment program for male addicts.

In a 68-page decision, Crabb granted summary judgment to the Foundation, halting funding to the faith-based agency through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. Two-thirds of Faith Works revenues come from public funding, with $600,000 awarded from the governor's discretionary funds through the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families block grant.

In grant proposals, Faith Works claimed its success was based on its faith-based approach as well as its longterm program. Then-Gov. Tommy Thompson made the unrestricted awards to the start-up Milwaukee group in 1998 and 1999. Faith Works did not open its doors until December 1999, had no track record in Wisconsin, and "could not have begun operations without prior public commitments of money," noted Crabb in her decision.

Faith Works requires men enrolled in its program to attend onsite "faith-enhanced" Alcoholics Anonymous counseling. Chapel and bible studies are part of the routine schedule. One of its goals is to find a spiritual mentor for each man and church affiliation and membership. Cited goals are: recovery, employment, family services, and "spiritual enrichment."

The Faith Works Standards of Practice states: "We are as individuals to be growing in our own faith life by regular church attendance, prayer, Bible study and seeking Spiritual direction from a Pastor/Shepard [sic] in our faith community."

Staff meetings begin with prayer. Faith Works staff are expected to attend church and "develop a personal relationship with God." In guidelines to staff, Faith Works describes itself as "a Christian faith-based treatment program, . . . serving the Lord in evangelistic outreach" and instructs staff to "respect the Holy spirit's ability to work in each person's life whether staff or resident."

Faith Works' employee handbook contains a "Statement of Faith" in the Christian principles guiding the organization: "AA . . .stops short of recommending Christ to all. However, at Faith Works we do."

Crabb found that the allocation of direct funding violates the second prong of the Lemon-Agostini Test by resulting in state-funded indoctrination: "As its name suggests, Faith Works is a faith-based treatment program whose bylaws state that it employs a Christian-enhanced model of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program."

Crabb wrote: "Faith Works' version of AA involves more explicit references to God than the standard AA. . . . The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has held that the content of traditional AA meetings is religious as a matter of law even when the meetings did not employ a 'Christian-enhanced' model such as the one Faith Works uses."

Faith Works, which intervened to become a co-defendant, tried to argue that it received enough private funding to cover the religious counseling it offered. Crabb rejected this argument: "The Supreme Court has systematically rejected attempts to unbundle religious activities through statistics and accounting."

Crabb added: "Defendants neglect to point out that they used the integration of religion into Faith Works' recovery model as a strong selling point for obtaining funding. . . . Faith Works cannot now try to excise religion from its offerings, saying that it contracted with the state to provide the wholly secular services of room and board without any reference to religion. This assertion rings hollow in light of the literature Faith Works provided the state. . . . I conclude that the Faith Works program indoctrinates its participants in religion, primarily through its counselors."

Crabb also dismissed Faith Works' arguments that the government violates "free speech" rights if it refuses to fund faith-based social agencies while it funds secular agencies: "the Wisconsin state government's appropriation of funds for the delivery of drug and alcohol treatment services . . . does not create a forum for private speech."

Crabb found that Faith Works is a pervasively sectarian institution and "that religion is so integral to the Faith works program that it is not possible to isolate it from the program as a whole."

Then-Gov. Thompson also granted waivers permitting the Department of Corrections to contract with Faith Works. Crabb stopped short of ruling the DOC contract unconstitutional, and is scheduling a trial to hear this portion of the Foundation's challenge. However, Crabb ruled that the burden of proof is on DOC to prove it does not coerce men on probation or parole to participate in Faith Works.

Said co-plaintiff Dan Barker, a Foundation staff member: "It is very fitting that this decision came down during the week marking the 200th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson's famed letter noting the 'wall of separation between church and state.' The 'wall of separation' has been buttressed by this significant First Amendment victory."

"This victory sends a powerful message to politicians seeking to unite church and state, to endow ministries and 'faith-based' social service groups that have explicitly religious agendas," added co-plaintiff Annie Laurie Gaylor, editor of the Foundation's newspaper Freethought Today.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc., Anne Nicol Gaylor, Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker. Representing the Foundation is attorney Richard Bolton. The lawsuit was filed in October 2000. The case is Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Scott McCallum, 00-C-617-C, January 7, 2001.

See the full decision: 00-C-617-C-01-07-02

For a downloadable .pdf version, click here:

See also:

"FFRF vs. Ashcroft", Freethought Today, August 2001

FaithWorks' Statement of Faith, Theology & Spirituality, Freethought Today, August 2001

"Foundation Goes To Court Over 'Charitable Choice' Funding of 'Faith Works', Freethought Today, November 2000

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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