Salvation Army In N.Y. Can’t Preach On Public’s Dime

Several New York government agencies have adopted new standards to ensure the Salvation Army cannot use public funds to proselytize.

The new policy is part of a settlement agreement in Lown v. The Salvation Army. In 2004, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit after learning that the Salvation Army required social workers and other employees in its government-funded social services programs to identify their church affiliation, the frequency of their church attendance and to sign an endorsement of the ministry’s mission to “preach the Gospel of Jesus.”

Eighteen former and current Salvation Army employees served as plaintiffs.

“When the Salvation Army’s religious mission was made mandatory in our work place, it changed the climate in a way that caused us fear and concern about our ability to ethically deliver services,” said Marina Obermaier, a social worker administrator who worked for eight years with Salvation Army foster families in New York City and on Long Island. “Our ethical commitment as social workers means that we may not be judgmental or refuse to offer services to our clients that are beneficial to them.”

Under the two-year settlement agreement, every government agency listed in the lawsuit must ensure that the money they provide to the Salvation Army does not subsidize religious activities.

As part of the settlement agreement, the NYCLU will receive regular reports from these government agencies, and a federal court will ensure that the agreement is enforced.

“This auditing model establishes a template that government agencies from across the county can apply to faith-based organizations contracted to perform government services,” said NYCLU attorney Beth Haroules.