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.
Americans United attorneys 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 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 HHS official wrote to say that Teen Challenge had “voluntarily terminated” its participation.
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.”
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.”
Teen Challenge is affiliated with the Assemblies of God denomination, a Pentecostal group. The Rev. Clayton Arp, state director for the group, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the organization is “faith-infused” yet said he believes it qualified for the grant.
The newspaper noted that only a small portion of the grant was delivered to the group.