Congressional Earmarks for Religious Groups Raise Church-State Concerns, Says Americans United

For Immediate Release

Congressional Earmarks for Religious Groups Raise Church-State Concerns, Says Americans United

Watchdog Group Urges Obama Administration to Block Ten Grants Unless Constitutional Safeguards Can Be Enforced

WASHINGTON - Americans United for Separation of Church and State today called on
the Obama administration to investigate ten earmarks for religious
schools and ministries that raise constitutional issues about
inappropriate public funding of religion.

In a letter
to Attorney General Eric Holder and three other cabinet officers,
Americans United urged the administration to examine the congressional
earmarks and block the funding unless appropriate legal safeguards can
be put in place.

"Taxpayers should never be forced to support religion," said the Rev.
Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Congress should
not approve earmark funding for projects that advance religion.
Religious pork is bad for America's constitutional health."

The earmarks include:

  • Atlanta Christian College (East Point, Ga.): $350,000 for
    curriculum development and technology upgrades. The college seeks to
    "educate students for Christ-centered service and leadership throughout
    the world" and "every degree includes a major or minor in Biblical
    Studies."
  • Beth Medrash Govoha (Lakewood, N.J.): $275,000 for an initiative to
    expand the rabbinical school's job training and career counseling
    services. The services focus on preparing its students to be teachers
    and administrators in secondary Torah schools and institutions of higher
    Talmudic studies as practicing rabbis and as experts in rabbinical
    jurisprudence.
  • Grace College and Theological Seminary (Winona Lake, Ind.):
    $150,000 for curriculum development, technology upgrades and additional
    course offerings. Grace College is an evangelical Christian liberal arts
    college that discriminates among applicants based on religion.
  • Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch (Minot, N.D.): $475,000 to expand a
    program for high-risk elementary school students. The Christian
    ministry's programs include prayer, Bible studies, counseling and
    discussion concerning God's plan for participants.
  • Men of Valor Academy (Oakland, Calif.): $100,000 to expand building
    trades instruction that can only be taken by individuals who first
    complete a program that includes Christian teachings.
  • Team Focus, Inc. (Mobile, Ala.): four earmarks for mentoring
    projects in four states: $500,000 each for projects in South Carolina
    and Alabama, $400,000 for one in Mississippi, and $100,000 for one in
    Texas. Team Focus is a faith-based non-profit organization that
    apparently includes Bible study and prayer in its mentoring programs for
    young men.
  • Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch (Minot, N.D.): In addition to the
    Department of Education earmark for high-risk youth intervention
    programs described above, this ministry was designated to receive a
    $200,000 Juvenile Justice grant from the Department of Justice to fund
    the same programs. Wesley Biblical Seminary (Jackson, Miss.):
    $250,000 to support programming costs associated with the Christian
    seminary's effort to establish a "multi-cultural center."
    United Methodist Children's Home (Selma, Ala.): $150,000 for security
    and information technology improvements. The ministry Web site explains
    that part of its mission is to "teach [the children] about God, their
    heavenly Father" and notes that the Home provides spiritual life and
    development as an important part of its ministry by "connecting [the]
    children with local United Methodist Churches in their area so they may
    participate in worship services, Sunday school, and children and youth
    activities."
  • Tacoma Rescue Mission (Tacoma, Wash.): $350,000 to complete
    construction on a shelter building. The Mission's activities include
    "shar[ing] our Christian faith." Within the shelter building itself, the
    Mission offers "daily encouragement through counseling, spiritual
    guidance and assurance of hope."

In the letter to the Obama administration, Americans United Senior
Litigation Counsel Alex Luchenitser wrote, "We ask that you carefully
investigate these earmarks and that you impose any restrictions
necessary to ensure that the earmarks satisfy all legal requirements. If
such restrictions cannot feasibly be put in place for one or more of
the earmarks, then, in order to comply with the law, please refrain from
funding those earmarks."

In addition to Holder, AU wrote to Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis,
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan and Education
Secretary Arne Duncan.

Luchenitser emphasized that AU's concerns are focused on
constitutional standards, not hostility to religion.

"We strongly believe," he wrote, "that religious institutions play a
vital role in American society, and we applaud the work that many such
institutions perform in providing much-needed social services to our
country's most disadvantaged citizens. We emphasize, however, that in
considering whether to fund the efforts of such organizations, the
government must be mindful of the fundamental constitutional principle
of separation of church and state."

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Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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