Watchdog Freedom From Religion Foundation Challenges HHS Faith-based Grant to Emory University

Also Pursues Faith-based Mentoring Lawsuit

(Madison, Wis.) The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s broad lawsuit filed last year over Cabinet-level faith-based funding under Pres. Bush’s initiative now includes a challenge of a 3-year grant from Health & Human Services to Emory University. The Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Jim Towey, et al., was filed in June before the U.S. District Court of Judge John Shabazz, Western District of Wisconsin.

As a first installment, Emory University received a $1.5 million federal grant from Health & 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: Saint Joseph’s Mercy Foundation, Atlanta, Ga. (Roman Catholic); The Rapides Foundation, Alexandria, La.; Wheat Ridge Ministries, a Lutheran-affiliated agency in Chicago, Ill.; Vesper Society, Hayward, Ga.; St. Luke’s Episcopal Health Charities, Houston, Texas; United Methodist Health Ministry Fund,Kansas; The Deaconess Foundation, St. Louis; the Incarnate Word Foundation, St. Louis; and The Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis.

In turn, these religious groups are charged with awarding subgrants. The grant application stated that “subawards will be granted to 49 faith-based organizations.” To date, at least 80% of subgrants have gone to religious agencies, the Foundation points out.

The Emory grant application identified goals such as the improvement of “government/FBO collaborations,” the development of “models of effective ecumenical/interfaith collaboration and then, perhaps even more important, to build ecumenical relationships characterized by trust and a mutual appreciation of what each other brings to the task of building a just community.”

“This entire project seeks to equip participating FBOs to engage in complex partnerships,” including “seeking out or inventing the religious role to be played,” the application states.

Emory’s IHP “includes religious and spiritual” models.

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.”

In a brief filed on Dec. 17, the Foundation noted:

“If the government wants to use intermediaries as its agents, then the agent must be as evenhanded as the Constitution requires of the government itself. The opportunity for shenanigans and manipulation otherwise is too great, and even if good faith is assumed, the question perturbs as to why community based organizations do not have the same opportunity to receive federal funding as faith-based organizations.”

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The Foundation’s challenge of HHS funding of Mentor Kids USA–a Phoenix-based program working only with Christian, church-going mentors who sign a fundamentalist Christian mission statement–resulted in suspension of the public grant on Dec. 15 by HHS. MentorKids USA was told to submit a “corrective” remedy by today.

MentorKids (also known as MatchPoint) engages in “Friendship Evangelism,” and describes itself as a “church-based Christian ministry whose mission is to restore youth at risk of becoming chronic offenders to protective relationships with their families, communities, and Creator.” Mentors’ objective is “to replace the youth’s distorted images of self and others with new images rooted in Christ.” Mentors “must have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”

They must submit monthly reports about whether the mentee “seems to be progressing in relationship with God,” how often they have “discussed God,” “participated in Bible Study,” “Attended Church” or “accepted Christ this month.” Mentors must also submit an essay with their application form about their “Personal Testimony” with Jesus and “how you might be able to share your Christian faith with a youth.” Its website advertises that “mentors are equipped to share the good news of who Jesus is and how He can provide a future and hope for everyone.”

HHS is now seeking for dismissal of this part of the Foundation’s lawsuit on grounds of “mootness.” MentorKids had already received at least $75,000 in federal funds. The Foundation’s lawsuit called not just for suspension of public funding but an injunction to HHS “to adopt and implement an effective plan to prevent further funding of faith-based mentoring programs that integrate and encourage faith as part of the mentoring protocol.”

“The Establishment Clause prohibits the ‘attempt to convert’ at public expense, which is the objective of MatchPoint’s Mentoring Program,” and also prohibits “forced taxpayer support of religion by nonbelievers, as much as forced participation in religious-based services,” the Foundation motion stated.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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