University of Minnesota Withdraws from Minnesota Faith Health Consortium after FFRF Lawsuit

FFRF Wins Solid Legal Victory

The University of Minnesota, after being sued on March 25 by the national Freedom From Religion Foundation, has withdrawn its membership in the Minnesota Faith Health Consortium. According to defendant Frank B. Cerra, Senior Vice President of Health Services, the consortium was established to “advance faith health initiatives.”

The University has not dropped sponsorship of the upcoming Faith/Health Clinical Leadership program, which the Foundation also challenged in its federal lawsuit. The faith/health leadership program, a collaboration of the consortium, is designed to prepare students “for a leadership role in the area of faith/health.”

“We’re pleased the University has dropped its affiliation with this religious consortium,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison, Wis.-based Foundation. “But its proposed 3-course program to train professionals to be ‘faith/health leaders’ clearly belongs at a seminary, not a public University.”

The Foundation’s lawsuit will proceed, Gaylor announced, since the “mission” of the consortium–“the alleged relevance of faith as an integral part of health care services,” is continuing at the University under the guise of the Faith/Health Clinical Leadership program.

The Faith/Health Clinical Leadership program is the centerpiece of the consortium, an unincorporated association between Fairview Health Services, Luther Seminary–associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and, formerly, the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center.

The program’s purpose, as described at the University’s website, is to be a “pioneering effort” to “prepare students from a variety of professional backgrounds for a role in faith/health leadership.”

University publicity about the courses promises: “Over three years, this project will have educated 45 to 60 leaders in faith/health [who] will in turn be effective in educating . . . diverse populations rang[ing] from prison ministries to traditional church congregations.”

Gaylor noted that the 3-course program is devotional and proselytizing, not academic, as shown by the reading list, all promotional of religion, none of it balancing or critiquing religious claims.

The University describes the program as being a model for training health providers and seminarians together for the very first time. The program would culminate in “an international conference of faith and health education” to help other institutions “implement their own Faith Health programming” and ” ‘catch’ the vision of the tremendous possibilities for spiritual progress.”

The University has trumpeted the fact that the courses would be accredited by the private Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), whose mission is to bring “theological students and ministers of all faiths . . . into supervised encounter with persons in crisis.” CPE describes itself as the “actual practice of ministry to persons” and trains students for various ministerial, chaplaincy and pastoral positions.

The University states that “current healthcare systems are in critical need of transformation and reform. . . . the arena of faith, religion and spiritual resources holds the key to movement toward holistic wellness practices.”

Gaylor said the paper trail of draft language, grant proposals and documents about the course development reveals that an “inappropriate boundary would be crossed” if training in “health/faith leadership” is offered by a public-supported University.

Defendant Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, wrote:

“In Minnesota, and across the nation, we are seeing an increasing number of churches that are establishing health ministries. . . . While programs to prepare parish nurses have partially filled the need of faith communities, there is a great need for education that is interdisciplinary in nature, that incorporates clinical pastoral education, and focuses on leadership in faith/health settings.”

University of Minnesota defendant Frank B. Cerra stated, “It is our belief that health systems, seminaries and academic health centers are uniquely positioned to advance faith and health initiatives,” in a grant proposal.

Luther Seminary’s president, David L. Tiede, wrote that the faith/health leadership program “clearly fits with our mission to ‘Educate leaders for Christian communities to serve in God’s world.’ “

Teachers would principally be ministers, chaplains or are described has having special “spirituality” certificates or training. Two of the three courses are largely clinical, wherein students would minister to patients.

After the Foundation filed suit, the University watered-down its curriculum description, which was released in June. Gaylor maintains the courses still inappropriately focus on the promotion of faith, and two of them actively place students in the position of promoting faith to patients. The first course, “History, Theology, and Philosophy of Healing,” compares “healing traditions, theology and spiritual practices.”

Semester Two,”Healer’s Journey,” “enables the students to reflect on their own personal, professional, and spiritual values as a means of assisting others to use their own spiritual background for enhancing their own well-being and healing.” Students will apply their “spiritual health history and documentation” and take a “spiritual assessment.”

Earlier drafts included assignments such as, “Outline ways that your God has blessed you and prepared you for a new life and ministry,” define “realms of spirituality,” discuss “Is suffering imposed by God?,” find “faith in the Divine,” and sign a “Covenant with God/Ultimate Mind/University.”

Course three, originally called “Faith Health: Leadership for Change,” cited the objective of assessing the “faith community in health, healing and wholeness” and “teamwork within communities of faith.”

In original announcements of the courses, the University of Minnesota said that Luther Seminary students could use the program to fulfill some of their required courses when seeking masters of divinity, or theology in pastoral care or earn dual degrees or certificates.

The Foundation seeks to enjoin defendants from providing graduate programming that endorses and promotes religion.

Seven Foundation members in Minnesota are named as plaintiffs, along with the Foundation. Defendants are Robert H. Bruininks, president of the University of Minnesota, Frank B. Cerra, senior vice president for health sciences at the University of Minnesota, Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing, part of the Academic Health Center at the University, and the Minnesota Faith Health Consortium.

This is the Foundation’s fourth federal lawsuit challenging the faith-based initiative, three of which it has won; part of one is on appeal.

For more information on Freedom From Religion Foundation et al. v. Dr. Robert Bruininks, et al., Civil No. 05-638 JNE/SRN, call Annie Laurie Gaylor at 608/256-8900. The complaint is available online at:

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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