FFRF: Ohio mentorship changes don’t go far enough

The Freedom From Religion Foundation remains unconvinced that Ohio Governor John Kasich’s Community Connectors mentorship program is free from unconstitutional religious requirements.

FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, represents more than 21,500 nontheistic members nationwide, including more than 600 in Ohio. Ohio remains on FFRF’s “top ten offenders” list in terms of number of state/church complaints generated.

After pressure from FFRF and others, the state’s Department of Education “clarified” its requirement that groups vying for mentorship funds must partner with a faith-based organization. The department now says this includes “organizations whose mission is based on the belief that every child’s life has a purpose,” which can purportedly allow secular organizations to qualify. “We want values-driven organizations involved in this,” said department spokesman John Charlton.

“The change doesn’t clarify anything, it just makes the program’s requirements more confusing,” noted FFRF Legal Fellow Katherine Paige, who has been investigating the program. “The principle that our lives have a purpose is distinctly religious, and ‘values’ is usually code for Christian Right values.”

“This is just as absurd as it would be to require all faith-based organizations to partner with atheistic groups that believe there is no cosmic ‘purpose of life,’ ” said Co-President Dan Barker, author of the forthcoming book, Life Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning.

“Any talk about ‘purpose of life,’ as opposed to ‘purpose in life,’ is essentially theistic,” Barker added.

The program will provide funds for local networks of volunteers and organizations to mentor students in disadvantaged public schools. According to the authorizing legislation, school districts can partner with businesses, civic organizations, or faith-based organizations to provide career advising and mentoring services. However, the program’s grant application says, “If the lead applicant is a community nonprofit or nonprofit associated with a for-profit business, a faith-based organization or house of worship must be included as a partner.” [emphasis added].

FFRF sent a letter to the Department of Education protesting the requirement on Dec. 23. “Rather than allowing religious organizations to compete for grants with secular organizations on a level playing field, this proposal buttresses religious organizations and gives them preferential treatment by requiring their inclusion in the project.” wrote FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

FFRF will be monitoring the situation to ensure the equal treatment of secular organizations who want to participate in Community Connectors.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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