Judge orders halt to funding of 'faith-based' program
January 18 2002 by Robert Marus , Associated Baptist Press

Judge orders halt to funding of 'faith-based' program | Friday, Jan. 18, 2002

Friday, Jan. 18, 2002

Judge orders halt to funding of 'faith-based' program

By Robert Marus Associated Baptist Press MADISON, Wis. - Taxpayer funding of a program once touted by President Bush as an example of the kind of partnerships he hopes will flourish under his "faith-based" initiative has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. On Jan. 8, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of Wisconsin ordered the state's Department of Workforce Development to discontinue the giving of direct grants to Faith Works - a Milwaukee addiction-recovery program for fathers.

The group has a specifically Christian mission and includes Bible study, prayer, religious counseling and a "faith-enhanced" Alcoholics Anonymous program among its treatment regimen.

President Bush touted the program during his 2000 presidential campaign as the kind of activity he would like to encourage. The program had been partially funded by block grants from the office of then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, who is now the head of Bush's Department of Health and Human Services.

The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit arguing that the unrestricted grants from the governor's discretionary fund, as well as pay-for-service grants from the state's department of corrections, violated the religious-liberty clauses of the First Amendment.

The judge agreed that even though the Faith Works program has "secular purposes" that courts have said can qualify religiously sponsored organizations for public funds, religion permeates its content. The U.S. Supreme Court has said direct grants cannot go to "pervasively sectarian" programs unless safeguards are in place to ensure that government funds aren't used for religious indoctrination or proselytizing.

The judge disagreed with attorneys for Faith Works who argued that sufficient safeguards existed to separate the program's secular and religious components, citing in particular the potential for state funding of religious counselors.

"State money and private foundation money are deposited into the same bank account from which counselors' salaries are paid," she wrote in her judgment. "At any given time, it is not possible to trace the source of bank deposits, to determine that money from private grants has been earmarked to pay counselors' salaries or to determine that state funds are not being used to pay counseling staff."

Bush's "faith-based initiatives" plan has already passed in the House but stalled in the Senate late last year. It would make it easier for the government to offer direct grants to pervasively religious organizations.

It now appears that a watered-down Senate version of the bill may be introduced when the Senate returns to work Jan. 23. The Senate bill would be co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Rick Santorum (R-Penn.).

The Wisconsin judge did not rule on a second allegation in the lawsuit that grants to Faith Works by the Department of Corrections also violated the First Amendment. The judge said church-state conflicts were less clear with the corrections contract than in the governor's grants. She ordered a trial to determine whether the corrections program was also unconstitutional.

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1/18/2002 12:00:00 AM by Robert Marus , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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