Freethought Watchdog Group Takes First Challenge of White House & Cabinet Faith-Based Offices

The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) working to keep church and state separate, has filed an unprecedented challenge of Pres. George W. Bush’s creation of federal offices for faith-based initiatives.

The lawsuit, filed today in the court of Federal Judge John Shabaz, the western district of Wisconsin, names Jim Towey, director of White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, the Secretaries of the Departments of Justice, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and eight cabinet-level or federal “faith czars.” Additionally sued is the head of the Center for Disease Control. Among the defendants named in the Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Jim Towey, et. al., is former Gov. Tommy Thompson, now Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Bobby Polito, whom Thompson appointed to head his Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation won a landmark lawsuit in 2002, taking the first fully adjudicated challenge of direct funding of a pervasively sectarian faith-based agency. That federal lawsuit named then-Gov. Thompson over Thompson’s endowment of a faith-based social services group, Faith Works of Milwaukee, which was headed by Bobby Polito.

The Foundation complaint claims that the various Centers for Faith-Based Initiatives are improperly funded with public tax dollars, with the purpose and effect of singling out faith-based social services. The suit takes aim at a series of conferences being hosted by various federal offices for the benefit of faith-based recipients, which the Foundation argues are de facto revival meetings. The conferences have been addressed by Towey, Pres. George W. Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other key players.

The Foundation challenges the funding of intermediary groups, which also give improper preference to faith-based organizations. Specific programs that have been funded so far, particularly by Health and Social Services and the Department of Labor, contain impermissible religious content.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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