FFRF calls defunding of extension service a promotion of Christianity

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging the Josephine County Board of Commissioners, based in Grants Pass, to resume funding the Oregon State University Extension Service, after the board misguidedly voted to defund it for maintaining religiously neutral programming.

FFRF understands that the county voted in June to end tax funding for the extension service, including local 4-H programs, because of its “woke agenda,” after it prohibited 4-H participants representing “Jesus Over Everything” from wearing clothing that promoted Christianity during official 4-H competitions. The extension service prohibited participants from promoting Christianity during its events because it is a government-funded organization and must remain religiously neutral.

Chair Herman E. Baertschiger complained, “It just saddens me, you talking God out of 4-H… It still says ‘In God, we trust’ on every single dollar bill. We say it in our Pledge of Allegiance.” The Board later voted 2-1 to defund the extension service, leaving it short about $400,000, effectively killing many of its important programs.

FFRF is therefore requesting that the board restore funding because, writes FFRF Attorney Chris Line, “The Board may not use its legislative power to promote, favor, and force a select set of religious values on Josephine County’s citizens.”

When the board takes action based on its blatant desire to promote a specific religion it sends the unmistakable message to all nonreligious and minority religion citizens “that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members.” This message needlessly alienates community members who are part of the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christian, including the 31 percent of Josephine County residents who are religiously unaffiliated.

The state/church watchdog reminds the board that the United States was founded by Enlightenment-inspired thinkers who valued reason and skepticism. If the Framers had wanted to establish the United States based on religious principles, they would have said so in the Constitution, the founding document of our nation. Instead they did the opposite. Many of the Founders were particularly wary of forming a country that commingled religion with government. That is why they drafted a Constitution that effectively formed “a wall of separation between church and state.”

While board members are free to express and promote their own religious beliefs in their personal capacities, it is unconstitutional to do so in their official capacities as elected commissioners. By defunding a local program for attempting to respect religious neutrality, based on their stated desire to advance religion, the board is violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, disregarding the wall of separation between state and church and disrespecting the diversity of Josephine County’s citizens. FFRF is requesting that the board correct this violation and cease taking similar actions or making similar statements in the future.

“This is an egregious action by the board of commissioners to harshly punish a state-funded group for adhering to the Establishment Clause,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The extensionservice made the right call and deserves its funding back.”

Read FFRF’s full letter to the board here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country, including over 1100 members in Oregon. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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