The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

(202) 466-3234
Joe Conn
Rob Boston
Sandhya Bathija

Fundamentalist Group Drops Public Funding Windfall After Americans United Protest

Kentucky Arm of 'Teen Challenge' Gives Up $50,000 Federal Grant


A fundamentalist Christian group that claims to help young people overcome drug and alcohol addiction through Bible study and prayer has given up a federal grant after Americans United for Separation of Church and State protested the funding.

Attorneys with Americans United wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in June, noting that a $50,000 grant to Teen Challenge of Kentucky raised serious constitutional issues. The money was allocated through the Compassion Capital Fund, a special program created as part of President George W. Bush's "faith-based" initiative.

Teen Challenge, Americans United pointed out, requires participants to take part in prayer, worship, Bible study and other religious activities. Program participants must sign a "Civil Rights Waiver" in which each surrenders the right to "exercis[e] the religion of my choice."

Applicants for the program are required to describe their Christian faith and agree to conduct themselves in a "Christ-like manner." The organization vows to offer "deliverance from addiction through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and practical application of Biblical principles."

Public funding of such sectarian activities, Americans United asserted, would clearly violate the First Amendment.

In response to Americans United's letter, an official with HHS wrote to say that Teen Challenge "voluntarily terminated" its participation in the program.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said he was pleased with the outcome but noted that Teen Challenge should never have received public funds in the first place.

"Teen Challenge boasts about its program being saturated with fundamentalist Christianity and makes it clear that required participation in religious activities is key to its approach," Lynn said. "I cannot imagine a worse candidate for tax funding.

"Bush administration officials have claimed that they do not fund religious activities, but this grant suggests otherwise," he continued. "Apparently their policy is to do it until they get caught."

Lynn noted that while Teen Challenge and other fundamentalist "faith-based" groups often claim high rates of success, no empirical data backs up the claim.

"Tax funds were being funneled to this organization even though it openly boasts about its religious content, and there's no evidence its approach even works," Lynn said. "This incident is a perfect example of what's so wrong with faith-based initiatives."

AU Senior Litigation Counsel Alex Luchenitser, who handled the AU complaint about the funding, said, "This was a clear example of unconstitutional support of religious coercion and discrimination. I'm glad we were able to bring the matter to an appropriate conclusion."

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.