Justice Department Defends 'Faith-Based' Funding of Religious Organizations
The U.S. Department of Justice has defended a series of Bush-era "faith-based" grants to sectarian organizations, but referred complaints from Americans United about the funding to the federal agency's monitoring and investigative units.
AU wrote to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder June 24, asking him to terminate or investigate nine federal "earmark" grants awarded to faith-based groups that include large amounts of religious activities in their programs or discriminate in hiring on religious grounds.
The grants were awarded during the 2008 fiscal year under the administration of President George W. Bush. In its letter, AU asserted that the Justice Department approved the constitutionally dubious funding without conducting anything more than a cursory review of its legality.
In a letter of response to Americans United, Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary said that was not the case.
Leary said the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) scrutinized each grant applicant to make sure the funds will be used in a way that comports with constitutional requirements.
Wrote Leary, "Although organizations and their members are constitutionally guaranteed the right to the free exercise of their religious beliefs, grant-awarded funds from the Department may be used only for specific purposes, consistent with the statutory authorization for their appropriation, and those purposes are secular."
Americans United requested that grants to Albany Teen Challenge, Central Indiana Teen Challenge, Minnesota Teen Challenge, New Hope Academy Teen Challenge of Pennsylvania and the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries be terminated entirely. It requested that grants to four other religious organizations be investigated to make certain the money is not spent to advance religion.
AU said many of the groups that received the public funds have track records of proselytizing and engaging in religious discrimination when hiring staff.
In its letter to Holder, Americans United included specific examples of problematic language from the organizations' Web sites and other materials. …