March 23, 2007
While the country awaits a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of public funding of faith-based social services, a secularist group launched a related suit. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State tried, unsuccessfully, to strip funds from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grant recipient because of its religious roots.
For years, the Northwest Marriage Institute has provided marriage workshops in an effort to strengthen relationships and eliminate poverty. Impressed by the organization's strong track record, the Administration for Children & Families awarded the group three grants so that low-income couples could take the secular seminars for free. None of the funds were used for the biblical workshops, yet former ACLU chief Barry Lynn's organization argued that Northwest's religious affiliation should exclude it from participating in government programs.
Fortunately, Federal District Judge Franklin Burgess disagreed, ruling, "[It] has never been held that religious institutions are disabled by the First Amendment from participating in publicly sponsored social welfare programs." We applaud the Alliance Defense Fund, which represented the Institute and successfully convinced the court that religious groups--that provide valuable social services cannot be treated like "second-class citizens."